This sheet, in common with most of Bresdin’s drawings, is drawn with a very fine pen in black ink (also known as India ink, or encre de Chine) on tracing paper. The majority of Bresdin’s drawings are on transparent tracing paper (in French, papier calque), with the translucency of the paper helping to transfer or reverse designs and motifs to a print medium.
This previously unknown drawing by Bresdin belongs with a group of interior scenes of peasant houses or inns, mostly datable to the late 1850’s and the 1860’s, which show rooms filled with people, animals, food and objects. The influence of Dutch genre painting of the 17th century is paramount in these works, as is a general mood of peace and hospitality. Some of these drawings and prints may have been based on peasant homes Bresdin would have seen in and around Bordeaux. Others, however, are called Moldavian interiors, and it has been suggested that the artist may have been inspired by an album of illustrations by Auguste Raffet entitled Voyage dans la Russie méridionale par le Hongrie, la Valachie et la Moldavie, published in 1838.
The composition of this drawing is repeated in another sheet, of similar dimensions, in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, and the present sheet may be a traced record of the Bibliothèque Nationale drawing. Odilon Redon noted that it was Bresdin’s practice to make careful tracings of his finished drawings before they were sold, in order to keep a record of them for himself, and that these drawn copies would often incorporate slight changes or added details. In his preface to the catalogue of the retrospective exhibition of Bresdin’s work at the Salon d’Automne of 1908, Redon described ‘the small drawings on bristol [board] which he drew with such careful concentration and of which, when they were sold, he always kept a tracing done rapidly, a beautiful tracing, enriched by the addition of new inventions.’ The Bibliothèque Nationale drawing differs from the present sheet in minor details, including the addition of a third bunch of garlic hanging above the open door and another signature (‘Caillou fecit’) below the print of two heads pinned to the chimney, next to the painting of the Vision of Saint Eustace.
The interesting suggestion has recently been made that these drawings and prints of peasant interiors, filled with all manner of hanging meats, vegetables, fruit and other foodstuffs, were intended as a representation of life in a land of abundance; a sort of visual comfort to the perpetually hungry artist. It is perhaps not too difficult to imagine Bresdin devoting his time to such detailed, convivial interior scenes as a means of mental escape from his life of constant struggle, poverty and near-starvation.