Léon Augustin LHermitte (French, 1925)


Born in France
Went to Paris and became a student at the Petite Ecole where he studied with Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran
L’Hermitte sent his initial entry to the Salon in 1864 at the age of 19
Lhermitte won a third-class medal in the Salon for his painting La Moisson (Musee de Carcassonne)
The Tavern, exhibited in the Salon
He continued to exhibit charcoal drawings and paintings regularly and pastels
Won Grand Prix at the Exhibition Universelle
Awarded the Diplome d’honneur at Dresden and the Legion d’honneur
Founding member of the Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts
Officer of the Legion d’honneur
Lhermitte showed artistic talent at a young age and his upbringing in the rural village of Mont Saiint-Père in Picardie provided him with the subjects and landscapes that would become the staples of his oeuvre. In 1863 left his home for the Petit Ecole in Paris where he studied with Horace Lecocq de Boisbaudran. It was in that studio that he formed a life-long friendship with Cazin and became acquainted with Legros, Fantin-Latour, and Rodin. He made his debut at the Salon of 1864 where his charcoal drawings revealed that he had a profound sense for nature. His first work, Bords de Marne près d’Alfort, caused a sensation. Lhermitte soon gained a reputation for being as capable with oils as with pastel and charcoal. For his entries, he won a third prize medal in 1874, a second prize medal in 1880, and a Grand Prize award at the Exposition Universelle in 1889. One year later, he was awarded a Diploma of Honour at Dresden. Lhermitte was awarded the Legion of Honour in 1884, was made an officer in 1894 and a commander in 1911. He was elected a member of the Institute in 1905. In 1890 he was one of the founding members of the Société National des Beaux-Arts, of which he was later elected Vice-President.
Lhermitte was born during a time that heralded a vast change in the urban and rural landscapes of France. The country was speeding into the modern world as urban spaces became more dense, industrialized, and teeming with activity. France was divided between a more educated, progressive North and a rural South of farm and field laborers. People rarely travelled between the regions and, as Paris became more and more cosmopolitan, Parisians progressively saw the south as a bucolic idyll frozen in time and impervious to change.
Urban townspeople imagined rural field-hands as robust, diligent peasant workers, too philistine for the metropolitan world. The urban elite increasingly used stereotypes of the countryside for their own agendas, creating a form of induced romantic nostalgia. As the cities rapidly processed advances in industry and dealt with a burgeoning population, many artists and writers used images to convince urban citizens to view the rural south as a land romantically caught in the past. The peasants were a reminder of life before the industrialised city, a seemingly unchanging people of the earth.
A leading member of the school of Social Realism, Lhermitte painted almost exclusively, scenes taken from rural life. The most profound influence upon his work was certainly Jean François Millet, the creator of the Angelus and many other remarkable works, yet, contrary to this, he clearly remained true to his original style of creating beautiful, light-filled pictures in the Barbizon tradition. Lhermitte adopted early on the method of peinture claire similar to that of the Impressionists, except in a more traditionally academic style. He was a talented artist, much respected by his peers, who was also quite commercially successful. Van Gogh wrote of him: “He is the absolute master of the figure, he does what he likes with it - proceeding neither from the colour nor the local tone but rather from the light - as Rembrandt did - there is an astonishing mastery in everything he does, above all excelling in modelling, he perfectly satisfies all that honesty demands.”
Lhermitte continued to create works in the French rural tradition until his death in 1925, the last survivor in an illustrious group of artists.