The Egyptian Grain-Cutter is a preliminary model for a larger painting of the same title executed in 1859, known from a photogravure in Grme: a collection of the works of J.L. Grme in one hundred photogravures, ed. Edward Strahan [Edward Shinn], New York, 1881 (fig. 1). It illustrates an aspect of Egyptian life that Grme most likely witnessed on his first trip to Egypt in 1856. The larger painting was supposed to have been purchased by Napoleon III, but this is speculative.
The painting depicts a harvesting scene showing two Egyptian Fellahs or peasants cutting grain in a field. It is early morning judging by the bright, flat light that illuminates the figures, and the angle of the shadows cast by the heads of the buffaloes. In addition, this sort of strenuous labor always took place in the morning, and not the afternoon, when the heat of the midday sun would have made it impossible to work. The combination of light, heat, and sand create a haze that surrounds the faraway town and cliffs. Judging from the landscape, it represents the middle to upper region of Egypt where the cliffs are located near the valley of the Nile River, unlike the flatter delta region in the south. Small pools of water are evidence of the Nile's flooding of the valley from June until October, allowing the farmers to cultivate the land in the following months.
Grme took up this subject matter several times, most notably in Treading out the Grain in Egypt, executed circa 1859 (see Ackerman, cat. no. 118).
This painting will be included in the forthcoming revised edition of the catalogue raisonn on Grme being prepared by Gerald Ackerman.
fig. 1 J.-L. Grme, The Egyptian Grain-cutter, photogravure, 1881 (Courtesy of Gerald M. Ackerman).