Daubigny’s paintings of orchards, often executed on a large scale, make up a distinct and particularly important segment of the artist’s oeuvre. Daubigny had a special interest in capturing the change of seasons, and many of his orchard pictures are evocations of spring, with their orchards in full flower. The present work, depicting trees laden with fruit and figures and animals seeking refuge in their shade, is instead the artist’s rendering of the transition from late summer into early autumn. The deep greens of the landscape, golden tinge of the sky and birds in flight above the trees further underscore the encroaching change of season. The standing figure at center holds out her apron before her, filled with windfall apples that she has gathered so that she and the two seated figures can share a snack during their rest. At right, a mother with a small child and a steer are also taking advantage of the shade and fruit of the orchard. While the trees and fruit show a high degree of finish, the figures are more sketchily executed, suggesting that the present work is very likely an esquisse for one of Daubigny’s late Salon paintings, possibly his French Orchard at Harvest Time exhibited at the Salon of 1876, now in the Städel Museum in Frankfurt am Main.
Daubigny’s paintings were a key inspiration to the artists of the Impressionist movement of the generation that followed him, chief among them Vincent van Gogh. Van Gogh was particularly fascinated with Daubigny’s orchards and considered him to be among the most innovative figures in French landscape painting. Van Gogh credited Daubigny with his own interest in landscape painting, and many of his compositions throughout his career were directly inspired by Daubigny’s work. Though the two never met, van Gogh mentions Daubigny approximately 60 times in his letters, often expressing his great admiration for the older artist’s ability to express the feeling of nature through his work.
Working in Arles in 1888 and 1889, van Gogh described himself to his brother Theo as in a ‘frenzy of work’ painting the local orchards. This series of canvases was inspired not only by the artist’s interest in Japanese prints, but also a direct response to Daubigny’s paintings of the same subject (fig. 1). Two years later, van Gogh would travel to Auvers-sur-Oise following his discharge from the asylum in Saint-Rémy. Daubigny’s house and studio at Auvers-sur-Oise, where the elder artist had spent his final years, had become a pilgrimage site for many younger artists after his death. Van Gogh, who was looking for a quiet place to paint near to where Theo lived in Paris, chose Auvers in part because of its connection to Daubigny. He would spend his final productive months there before his suicide in July of 1890. Among the last pictures he painted were three views of the garden at Daubigny’s home, where van Gogh had been given special permission to paint by Daubigny’s widow.
The present work was previously in the collection of Samuel P. Avery, one of the most successful art dealers active in New York in the late nineteenth century and one of the founders of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Avery travelled throughout Europe buying contemporary paintings for his wealthy New York clientèle.