0n the present work, one of the last exhibited by the artist, Daubigny returns to one of his favourite themes, but on a hitherto unprecedented scale. He shows a moon rising over the horizon, illuminating a peasant couple, no doubt resting after a day of work. The composition is typical of the artist, but rendered unusually soft by the bluish light and the gentle brushstrokes. The painting has a quiet, contemplative beauty, with almost religious overtones that link man to nature. The tree on the left, for example, seems rooted both to the earth and the couple resting beneath it, whilst reaching starkly heavenward in opposition to the dominating horizontality of the composition.
The great novelist Alexandre Dumas was moved to buy the painting when he saw it at the 1877 Salon, and the critic Jules Castagnary, commenting on the artist's ability to render moonlight so naturally, stated: "...Lever de Lune seems to me to depict one of the most astonishing and probably one of the most difficult effects of painting. Daubigny has succeeded in portraying a moon which lights itself. The moon is not flattened against the background, clinging to the clouds, as is most often seen. Here, it floats, bathing in a real atmosphere which envelops it from all sides. Finally, that which is most prodigious, the moon truly shines. This moonlight quivers in the surrounding air, comes down from the celestial heights, slithers along the high grass and in the twilight of the evening models the intersection of the paths. This is not colour spread on a canvas with a brush, it is light stolen by the artist from the vital sources where nature creates the day. Look at this painting by Daubigny for several minutes, you will see the illustion come into being. Strange, this artist becomes more daring as he grows older. I have been told that he has a number of moons, one more astonishing than the other, destined for the World Fair of 1878. If the King of Bavaria comes to see us - he who is a fervent lover of the night's heavenly sphere - he will be filled with wonder" (quoted in Fidell-Beaufort, op. cit., p. 74).
The present work highlights the temperance which governed so much of Daubigny's artistic outlook. He foresook bright sunlight or the dramatic rock landscapes of Fontainebleau forest favoured by his Barbizon friends, for gentler Northern landscapes, here mellowed further by the evening light and underlying harmony which Daubigny wishes to emphasise in his twilight years.