This painting exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1879, is one of a pair of harvest scenes that marked a new direction in Jules Bastien-Lepage’s career as a painter. The earlier of the two works, The haymakers (Musée d’Orsay, Paris), exhibited at the Salon in 1878, shows two weary haymakers resting in the summer heat; by contrast, Octoberis an account of the bleak autumnal potato harvest, set in a bare, featureless landscape. The later picture was painted at the artist’s native village of Damvillers, in northeastern France. Here, inspired by the example of Millet and Courbet, Bastien-Lepage had planned to paint rural life as he knew it, celebrating its hardships as well as the inherent dignity of the peasants themselves. He particularly despised those city painters whose sentimental views of rustic life confirmed their ignorance of it, but whose works continued to fill the annual Salons.
The choice of large canvases for his two harvest scenes not only indicates Bastien-Lepage’s ambitious artistic program but also bespeaks his confidence in his own technical virtuosity. It was perhaps this latter element that was most noticed by Salon audiences. The public was pleased by the artist’s ability to combine the high ‘finish’ expected of a conventional academic picture with the looser brushwork associated with the Impressionists.
Text by Sonia Dean from 19th century painting and sculpture in the international collections of the National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2003, p. 97.