Léon-Augustin L'Hermitte purportedly began working in pastels in 1885, the year before his first exhibition at the Société des Pastellistes Français. There at the Georges Petit Gallery in Paris he exhibited twelve pastels which portrayed daily peasant life around his birthplace of Mont-Saint- Père. This exhibition would establish L'Hermitte as one of the foremost proponents of works executed in pastel. In fact he helped to found the pastellistes and would go on to mentor younger artists in this medium. Van Gogh once referred to Lhermitte as "Millet the Second" and wrote of him in the following passage:
"…if every month "Le Monde Illustré" published one of his compositions…it would be a great pleasure for me to be able to follow it. It is certain that for years I have not seen anything as beautiful as this scene by Lhermitte…I am too preoccupied by Lhermitte this evening to be able to talk of other things."
L'Hermitte's use of pastels helped to usher in and reinforce the growing acceptance of the use of pastels in art in France.
Paysannes et Vaches Devant Le Village de Mont-Saint-Père stands as L'Hermitte's bucolic tribute to the town in which he was born. This charcoal is related to the 1888 book 'La Vie Rustique' ('Rustic Life') by Andre Theuriet, for which L'Hermitte produced the illustrations, and it appears on p. 193. Theuriet was a novelist noted for his simple, pastoral depictions of provincial country life, and he received the prix Vitet from the Academie Française in 1890, just two years after 'La Vie Rustique' was published. L'Hermitte, already noted for his superior work on paper in both pastel and charcoal, was selected to illustrate the novel, and provided plates for each of its chapters as well as the cover page and frontispiece. Paysannes et Vaches in particular depicts the village of Mont-Saint-Père in the Northern French province of Aisne, and it is a preparatory sketch for the image opening the chapter in the novel entitled The Village. In the scene, two peasant farmers and their cow stand in a field on the outskirts of town, surrounded by small, modest homes and a church atop a hill in the background. Paysannes et Vaches captures the essence of provincial life, with its emphasis on simple yet challenging work and the diligent, pious, and family-oriented lifestyle with which it is associated.
L. Quitton Collection, Paris, before 1991
Les fusains de L. L'hermitte, Paris, Launette Artistic Library, 1887
A. Theuriet, 'The Village,' La Vie Rustique, ed. 1888, p. 193
Mr Hamel, A French Artist: Leon L'hermitte (1844-1925), doctoral thesis, Saint Louis, Washington University, 1974, C 124, no. 121, repr.
Monique Le Pelley Fonteny, Leon Augustin L'hermitte (1844-1925), Catalog raisonné, Paris, 1991, p. 413, n ° 491
Alfred Paulet, 'The National', 7 September 1887
C. Ponsonaille, 10 October 1887
Jean Balva, 'The Authority', 10 January 1888