A genre painting, of which the painter was particularly fond, and which captivates the observer through its immediate narrativity: a young woman, kneeling in the centre of the composition, is removing the corn cobs from her basket and spreading them out in the sun on a blanket; in the background, arranged in a diagonal line that marks out the painting’s beautiful perspective field, is another elderly woman, busily engaged in an invisible task, but one that is still related with the same seasonal summer work, framed within a sun-filled terrain where other blankets of corn cobs are to be seen spread out, stretching all the way to the background, where one imagines the modest house and its outbuildings.
With the characteristic mastery of his old age, the painter focuses his attention on the bent body of the young woman, her face and blouse bathed in sunlight, arriving at a figure whose roundness, coming from the basket, is repeated in the hat and the gentle arrangement of her skirt. The yellow of the corn cobs is echoed in the headscarf, beneath her hat, also rhyming with the red of her blouse and apron. With these chromatic devices, translated into long and extremely skilful brushstrokes that simultaneously describe and synthesise, Malhoa elaborates the underlying theme of what we read in the painting: the freshness of the young woman, her restrained and involuntary eroticism, which is revealed both in the efficiency of her costume and the delicate colour of her profile and her bare arm. As the festivals marking the wheat and corn harvests are powerful moments in country life, related with times of courtship, it is understood that the woman works and caresses the corn spikes, bodies of a soft sun and guarantees of survival just as she herself is, pregnant with promises of love. The whole patches of yellow that are arranged within the scene echo the same vital happiness, linked to the idea of brief abundance and procreation. The old woman, with her back turned to us, establishes an effective dialogue with the beauty of the girl, suggesting, without any great drama, the cycles of life that follow on from one another and which will continue to do so, at the rhythm of the seasons and in the resigned context of country life.
In this way, the depth of Malhoa’s iconographies is confirmed, composed as they are of subtle coincidences duplicated between nature and country life, and the richness of the culture that shapes both the one and the other. There is a kind of simultaneously pagan and Catholic religiousness in these repeated and always particular tasks that involve both people and things in a solar epiphany, acknowledged by the painting that renders them eternal.


  • Title: Corn in the sun
  • Creator: José Malhoa
  • Date Created: 1927
  • Physical Location: Grâo Vasco Nacional Museum, Viseu, Portugal
  • Physical Dimensions: 34.5 cm x 41 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Oil on wood

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