Léon Augustin Lhermitte, (French, 1844–1925)
Picking Lilies of the Valley, 1887
Charcoal on laid paper, 15 1/4 x 11 1/4 in.
Signed lower left: L. Lhermitte
Lhermitte produced this drawing as one of a series of illustrations for André Theuriet’s Rustic Life, published in 1888. This illustration accompanies Theuriet’s text on women and children gathering lilies-of-the-valley blooms from the forest to sell in Paris:
Large bunches of these little flowers bring as much as ten sous; and to many poor families in the village ten sous is a godsend. So in the early dawn women and girls, dressed in their oldest clothes, wander through the thickets to gather lily-of-the-valley. Their feet and hands bleed in making a way through the brambles; the sun burns their necks and backs; sometimes a sudden hailstorm wets them to the skin. But still they go on, eager for their harvest.
Lhermitte here instilled the two young girls picking flowers with an aura of innocence and spirituality, reflecting his belief—and that of contemporaries like Jules Breton—in the nobility of peasants.