A pretty lovely and unusual subject by the artist Jean-Louis Forain, the great and renowned master of representations, illustrations and caricatures of the Parisian theatre scene. On a warm summer’s day, a man in a blue coat and straw hat – the peasant’s traditional clothing – walks down a country road. On the horizon, between the trees, there is the silhouette of a farm or house to where he is heading. The yellow grain and the blue-cloudy sky reflect the height of summer. The figure of the paysan was a recurrent theme in the work of pre-and impressionists such as Millet, Pissarro and Cézanne, and later Van Gogh.
Outdoor scenes and landscapes are rare in Forain’s œuvre. As he simply stated about himself: “I was born in Reims on the 23rd of October 1852, and I adore the Ballet” (quoted in Theodore Reff and Florence Valdès-Forain, Jean-Louis Forain. The impressionist years, The Dixon Gallery and Gardens collection, Memphis, 1995, p. 23). Forain came from a poor family, his father was a sign-painter for shops. The family moved to Paris in 1860 and then Forain was able to pursue an artistic education, but rather eclectic – from drawing lessons with the painter Jacquesson de la Chevreuse to a year in the studio of the sculptor Carpeaux; from a class at the Ecole des Beaux-arts under Gérôme to a final study with the caricaturist André Gill. In 1894, at an exhibition of Forain works at the gallery Vollard, Cezanne told Vollard that in about 1875 he saw this young artist copying paintings at the Louvre and said to himself: “He’ll arrive, he’s working for form!” (quoted in Ambroise. Vollard, Cézanne, New York, 1984, p. 62). But years after years, Forain was also formed by the impressionists, whom he used to meet at the café Nouvelle-Athènes. While he followed Degas in subject matter – backstage at the ballet was a favourite theme – his style and colouring is more in line with the work of Daumier.
From the early 1890s, his reputation as an artist was well established, portraying the Parisian high society in thousands of images, and publishing illustrations and caricatures in Le Chat Noir. He could then afford a house in Paris as well as in the countryside, where he might have painted the present work. It is very difficult to date it. The style is close to other outdoor scenes and landscapes works from 1895 to 1905. After around 1905, his palette became more fluid, and his brushstroke longer.
The present work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Forains œuvre by Florence Valdès-Forain.