La Paysanne à Grez
Arthur Melville ARSA RSW (1855–1904)
Oil on canvas, 21½ x 12½ inches; 54.6 x 31.7 cm.
Signed and dated 1880
Collection: Bourne Fine Art
Painting a French peasant in the open air was one of the basic challenges faced by art students of the 1880s. The American painter Will H. Low, one of the first artists to visit Grez-sur-Loing recalled the curiosity which he and his colleagues aroused amongst local inhabitants. ‘Jacques Bonhomme’ was fiercely independent and his curiosity concerning the young foreign invaders was not tempered with envy. The village of Grez was ‘discovered’ by artists in the summer of 1875 – even though Corot had painted there in the previous decade. Robert Louis Stevenson described famously as ‘pretty and very melancholy’ – a mood which lifted with the arrival of successive groups of students who spent as much time cavorting in the river as they did painting (see McConkey, 47-79). Two years later, Melville’s teacher, James Campbell Noble, painted there, and it is likely as a result of conversations with Noble that he made his first exploratory trip in 1878. He returned in the following year and was there in the early months of 1880 when the present picture was painted. [Continued below]