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Art of the Week May 22, 2011

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"Fin du Travail" by French Painter Jules Breton

La Fin du Travail 2
Jules Breton (1827 –1906)
. Jules Breton was born in Courrieres, a small village in Northern France. In 1847, Breton left to study art in Ghent at the Academy of Fine Arts and then at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in order to perfect his traditional academic painting style. At first Breton focused primarily on historical paintings, which gave him a small amount of success.

After marrying the daughter of his early mentor, Felix de Vigne, Breton’s style evolved further and took a major contrast to his previous subjects. He began painting scenes reminiscient of his early childhood in CourriereJules Bretons. His paintings took on the subjects of reapers and gleaners working from dusk to dawn on the farmland. His scenes of the peasant lifestyle and work ethic brought him success. During the second half of the 19th century, rewards and official decorations were heaped upon him, and his paintings were purchased not only by the emperor but also by collectors in America, Britain and Ireland. However, Breton's work became eclipsed by the avant-garde movements of the 20th century, and he was eventually forgotten
 
The painting seen here is Fin du Travail, (End of the Working Day), painted in 1887. The scene displays three peasant women toiling in the field against a setting sun. On the left side, the viewer can see two other figures working in the distance. Two of the women are carrying large sacks on their backs and heads, while the woman in the center holds a two shovels and a water jug and looks to the left. With the setting sun the working day is over and the women are leaving the field. However the central woman’s facial expression and stare signal the viewer to wonder if whether or not there is more to be done. The painting is a clear example of Breton’s appreciation for pastoral beauty. The three women are given almost heroic and noble standing against their lower working class standing. The sun light that shines near them and the detailed painterly style also alludes to their importance in the rigid social hierarchy. The painting is on display at New York City's Brooklyn Museum.