Léon Augustin Lhermitte (French, 1844-1925)
Three Washerwomen, ca. 1917
Pastel on paper, 20 x 25 1/2 in.
Signed lower left: L.Lhermitte
1996.13

This pastel is one of Lhermitte’s numerous compositions of washerwomen,and typifies the technique and style of his late works. The artist initially became famous for his charcoal drawings, which he exhibited in Paris and London, but in the 1880s he increasingly turned to pastels – among other media. Like other late works, Three Washerwomen is freely drawn, where the figures are no longer the central focus of the composition, but rather part of an unobstructed view of the river and countryside. Here, the figures are smaller than in earlier works, and relegated to a corner of the picture, revealing a landscape with stylized foliage that combines Lhermitte’s mature naturalism and the Impressionist influence.

Lhermitte’s interest in rural life developed from his youth in the village of Mont-Saint-Père in the Aisne region of France. After receiving a grant to study art in Paris, in 1863 he entered the École Impériale du Dessin, known as the Petite École (Little School) where he studied with Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran, who taught the concept of painting and drawing from memory. This training served Lhermitte well, and he became one of the most prolific painters of French rural life. Lhermitte received numerous honors from France and other countries, becoming a member of the Institut de France in 1905, Knight of the Legion of Honor in 1884, Officer in 1894, Commander in 1910, and Knight of the Order of St. Michael in Germany in 1892.