The authenticity of this work has been confirmed by Monique Le Pelley Fonteny.
A number of factors make this pastel by Léon-Augustin Lhermitte exceptional. It is one of his earliest plein-air pastels, it has not been on the market since the late nineteenth century, and furthermore it remains in almost original condition. Lhermitte described the work in his notes as: '...“Jeune filel, tablier et chemise, se repose accroupie en coupant de l'’hrbe dans un pré au soleil - au fond, village se découpe sur un ciel bleu.' (M. Le Pelley Fonteny, Léon Augustin Lhermitte: catalogue raisonné, Paris, 1991, p.289).
Along with his contemporaries Jean-François Millet and Jules Breton, Lhermitte joined the elite group of painters who focused their energies on portraying the lives of those in the surrounding countryside. While history paintings and genre scenes associated with 'high art' were exhibited on the walls of the Paris Salon, there was a distinct move by certain artists towards realism in subject matter and execution. For the general public these works were easier to digest and appreciate, and for dealers and collectors alike they retained their commercial power by providing a refreshing and aesthetically pleasing rendition of the world beyond the boulevards. While urban spaces fell prey to modernisation under Napoleon III, art inspired by tradition that admired peasant life for the nobility of their modest living, satisfied the city-dwellers with the nostalgia they craved.
Works executed by Lhermitte possibly reached a far wider audience than any other contemporary artist of peasant life, for he dedicated his time to print-making and drawing. Vincent Van Gogh collected his works, and reinforced the praise bestowed upon him by contemporary critics describing him as the 'Millet and Breton of Black and White'. Meanwhile, Lhermitte's intuitive use of light and shade was being applied in his pastels and paintings as much as in these monochrome works. Working en plein air, his genius is evident in Soleil dans les herbes as he captures how, through the overhanging branches of a tree, sunlight simultaneously casts shadows and scatters light upon the reposing figure with her scythe beneath. He also perfectly executes each blade of grass, green and healthy yet yellowed at the tips by the intense heat. At the crossroads between Realism and Impressionism, Lhermitte has managed to monumentalize a humble peasant theme and through his use of pastel, add an incredibly subtle attention to colour.