Jules Breton: On the Road in Winter; Artois
Sur la route en hiver; Artois poetically illustrates how Jules Breton, a self-proclaimed “peasant who paints peasants,” drew artistic inspiration from the working people of rural France. In the present work, as with much of his painting in the period, villagers from Courrières serve as models: Bibi (the daughter of a mine worker) and Henry (one of Breton’s favorites). Just as the harvesters returning from late summer’s golden fields, these winter wanderers are elevated to icons of country life.
As recorded in his wife Elodie Breton’s diary entries, the artist began Sur la route en hiver; Artois on March 17, 1881, after a harsh winter had left the fields of Courrières covered in snow. Although other projects diverted his attentions, Breton completed this work by February 1884 and exhibited it to great acclaim at the Salon of that year.
Just as the present work inspired critics to wax poetic, it also inspired Breton, a poet himself, to write three stanzas, which he exhibited alongside the painting at the Salon:
Boundless as the sea, a mantle soft and new,
Across the landscape, a snow all virgin lies;
Emerging far beyond, to heavens lone and blue,
A vision tender, soft, golden green in hue
In dazzling beauty, see fair Diana rise!
In western skies, slow sinking to his night’s repose,
Out from the conch which filmy mist enfolds,
The radiant sun his countless gleaming javelins throws;
Beneath his ancient kiss the boy, pale moon now glows,
As, shrinking, she that ruddy face beholds.
The lily white expanse, so sparkling, billowy, vast,
Takes from th’illumining flood a rosy stain;
White purplish, pallid shade the countless hummocks east;
And seems the bounty of a thousand Aprils past,
To shower the glistening, efflorescent plain.