Émile BERNARD | The harvest (Breton landscape) [La moisson (Paysage breton)]

France 1868 – 1941

The harvest (Breton landscape)
[La moisson (Paysage breton)]
oil on wood panel
panel 56.5 (h) x 45.0 (w) cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris , Purchase 1965
© RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

Emile Bernard uses bold, flattened shapes and an unusual viewpoint to depict a summer harvest scene in the French province of Brittany. Two female figures in the foreground are dressed in the traditional Breton costume. One woman bends over to tend the wheat while the other stands upright. Two other harvesters work in the middle distance ankle-deep in the crop. All four figures are strongly outlined in blue-black. Notice how Bernard paints the woman’s left hand green to match the greens of the distant scene.

A large expanse of pale yellow wheat dominates the composition with a diagonal edge highlighting the gradient of the hillside. An elevated position allows us a vista of grass and small trees in the landscape below and a slim wedge of blue sky in the distance.

The radical simplicity of this painting created much consternation when it was hung on the dining room wall of the boarding house where Bernard was staying. Guests, who were conservative painters, were so unimpressed that they threw bread balls at it and the landlady was begged to remove it.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
From audio tour Masterpieces from Paris: Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin and beyond Post-Impressionism from the Musée d'Orsay