The present work is an archetypal example of Léon Lhermitte's summer harvest scenes. He reproduced the same composition in pastel (M. Le Pelley Fonteny, op. cit, no. 532) and the figures, notably the man seen from behind with the scythe, are reproduced in several other works.
An artist of extraordinary versatility, famed as a draftsman, pastellist (he produced some of the largest works by any artist in this medium) and oil painter, Lhermitte's early painting style showed some of the lyricism of Corot. However, by the 1880s he had turned his attention to a more accurate depiction of rustic life focussed on the activities of its inhabitants. Although a Realist, his large scale paintings were executed in a grand manner, which gave them an elevated message about the heroism of the peasants they depicted. This formula set Lhermitte apart from his more radical contemporaries, but was enormously popular and commercially very successful. Lhermitte's work was reproduced by printmakers and dealers such as Boussod & Valadon had a steady stream of customers for Lhermitte's paintings and pastels, who appreciated the refreshing and aesthetically pleasing rendition of the world beyond the boulevards.
Lhermitte's work is comparable to that of Jules Breton and Jean-François Millet, but his figures are more individualized. "As Lhermitte presents them, the sober, industrious laborours...were eminently virtuous. They are not like Millet's peasants, representatives of a generalized type or an heroic class. Lhermitte painted the individual peasant as heroic...Millet's figures are extremely fatalistic, almost as if they were driven to abandon all personal identity in their brutish struggle with nature. In contrast, Lhermitte's peasants...are proud, identifiable persons: his neighbours, the inhabitants of Mont Saint Pierre." (M. Hamel, exh. cat, Léon Lhermitte, The Paine Center & Arboretum, 1974, p. 17).
Unlike many of his peers, Lhermitte never allowed his admiration for the peasant classes to descend into sentimentality. He rendered modern rural life using much of the visual rhetoric of high art: dramatic poses, careful positioning of his figures, and subtle tonalities of lighting. But his narratives remain fixed on the procedures of rural life, and in the immensity and fruitfulness of nature. In the present work, Lhermitte leads the viewer down his central row of figures -- each with a clearly defined task, but compositionally unified into a team -- and on to the landscape beyond. The painting is rendered with confident assurance, showing all the stylistic convictions for which Lhermitte is famed.