Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Song of the Lark (1884)

Jules Breton: The Song of the Lark

She’s not pretty; she’s a little bit mannish, actually— her feet are a little too large, her hands too strong on the handle of the scythe, her eyes too dark behind heavy brows. The empty field where she stands is harsh, with flat dirt extending for a long way before touching a green border far in the background. A mottled red sun rises behind her, heralding the dawn, but even that has little inherent beauty.

Yet the look of searching wonder in her face is touching, even breathtaking. All the emotion of The Song of the Lark by Jules Breton is imbued with the implied things outside the canvas, lending the dull, mundane scene a romantic tinge.

This 1884 painting is an example of the Realist movement, the quiet browns, dim greens and lazy reds somehow given life by the thin white of the girl’s shirt. Rough textures that resemble Courbet’s The Stonecutters surround her, but the smoothness of her dirt-smudged skin clearly marks her as more important than the background.

Many paintings from the 19th century address the topic of ordinary peasant life, but the specific focus makes this one special. Whereas other artists chose to portray ordinary tasks, full of people going about their daily work in a brightly colored country scene, The Song of the Lark depicts a rare quiet moment at the very beginning of the day. The lull between night and dawn is the most peaceful time; looking at the solitary girl in the half-light gives off a sense of relaxation, not unlike lying in bed just after waking, watching the light slowly edge up the wall. [Columbia College Chicago]

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