Although fully attributed to Jules Bastien-Lepage in the Joseph Brown catalogue Spring Exhibition 1977: Recent Acquisitions, there is a degree of uncertainty as to the identity of the artist responsible for Young peasant woman. The painting, which is unfinished and neither signed nor dated, is here cautiously attributed to Bastien-Lepage, but the possibility that it is by another hand cannot be discounted. A close circle of followers gathered around this influential painter in the 1880s, painting similar subjects in a similar style.
The positioning of the young woman in an expansive countryside is characteristic of Bastien-Lepage, as is the choice of a high vantage point which locates the figure against the landscape. The village in the background cannot be identified but is similar to the view which appears in a number of works painted by Bastien-Lepage on the outskirts of his home in Damvillers, especially the view in the background of Pas mèche [Nothing doing] 1881-82. As noted by Kenneth McConkey, however, 'the handling of the buildings in the background is rather smudgy and less-defined than one would expect from a Beaux-Arts trained painter, such as Bastien'. McConkey concedes that a number of features of the painting are consistent with Bastien-Lepage's mode of conception and believes the work sufficiently close to warrant consideration. Lacking signature or date - 'Something one would expect in a painting of this size, albeit unfinished' - he reserves judgement, however, until other works portraying a similar model appear.
The model depicted in Young peasant woman has features similar to Adèle Roberts, a cousin of the artist, who appears as the central figure in paintings Les foines [Haymakers] 1878, Saison d'Octobre: récolte des pommes de terre [October: Potato harvest] 1879, and in other works from 1878 to 1884. Adèle Roberts and the Young peasant woman share the same strong jawline, angular cheekbones, small mouth and dark hair pulled back from the face.
Regardless of the author, the painting appears to date from the early 1880s. The woman's clothes can be broadly dated to the 1880s, though rural costume tends to be conservative and less affected by changes in fashion, and therefore harder to date with precision. The canvas itself bears the rubber-stamped imprint 'Foinet', used to mark the canvases which this firm provided between 1880 and 1898. A date in the early 1880s seems most probable, being both the time of Bastien-Lepage's mature, most confident style, and also the period when his art inspired many imitators.
adapted from Michael Lloyd and Michael Desmond, European and American paintings and sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery, 1992, pp.54-55, by Christine Dixon
- By 1883 the situation had reached such proportions that a Salon critic noted in exasperation, 'Dans chaque salle, sur chaque mur, à chaque pas - Bastien-Lepage! partout, toujours et sans cesse … Tout le monde peint tellement aujourd'hui comme M. Bastien-Lepage que M. Bastien-Lepage a l'air de peindre comme tout le monde'. [In each room, on each wall, everywhere you turn - Bastien-Lepage! everywhere, constantly and incessantly. The whole world paints so much today like Mr Bastien-Lepage that Mr Bastien-Lepage seems to paint like the whole world.] 'Le Salon, 1', Ville de Paris, 1 May 1883, cited in William S. Feldman, 'Jules Bastien-Lepage: A New Perspective', Art Bulletin of Victoria no. 20, 1980, pp.2-9, cf. p.9, n.22
- held National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh
- correspondence with the National Gallery of Australia, 1 December 1986
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010