This thought-provoking painting, attributed to the Belgian artist Georges Lemmen, exhibits the influence of French pointillism with its adept use of complementary colors and methodical technique. A mixture of French social realism, the restrained palette of the Dutch Hague School and the abstraction and expressive brushstroke of French post-impressionism, this painting is a quintessential turn-of-the-century composition.
The subject of the painting is a gathering of peasants in a café after the end of their work day. The two figures in the foreground still wear the blue apron and sabot that characterize the working class costume of the region in the late 19th century. The caps worn by the protagonists are reminiscent of van Gogh's images of peasant life from this period.
The artist captures the fatigue and solemnity of the workers as they unwind, focusing on the exhausted and dejected posture of the elderly man in the foreground who stares at the viewer, his cap clutched in his hand. The two figures behind him are similarly postured in poses that hint at despondency and isolation. The men are portrayed lost in their own thoughts, too exhausted to engage in conversation.
The influence of The Hague School is evident here in the sobriety of the scene and its emphasis on peasant life. The colors of this painting, however, indicate the influence of post-impressionism, and the dabs of pure color applied in patterns to form an image indicate that the artist was an admirer of the pointillist technique.
Although post-impressionism tended not to focus on the same subject matter as the social realist movement, this painting is a rare juxtaposition of social realist subject matter with post-impressionist technique. The ingenuity of the artist's approach to both the application and the genre is incredibly unique and serves as a reminder of the multiple artistic currents flowing throughout 19th century Europe at the turn of the century.
Lemmen's existentialist take on the hardships of peasant life produces an image that is certainly timeless. This painting transcends genre in that it reveals the melancholic mannerism of the European peasant in a way that bears his soul. Instead of detached or exoticized images of peasant life that intend profound social statements about equality and freedom, this painting responds to the expressive tendencies of post-impressionism and unveils the experience of poverty as an intensely emotional landscape.
Georges Lemmen was born in Schaarbeck, Belgium in 1865. Demonstrating artistic talent at a very young age, he was encouraged to pursue a career as an artist by his father. His friendship with French artist Georges Seurat influenced him to experiment with divisionism and adopt a pointillist style. In 1888 he became a member of the Belgian artistic group Les Vingt, at a time when the group was strongly aligned with French divisionism. Lemmen's oeuvre includes many scenes of tranquility and harmony while at the same time emphasizing a sense of balance and clarity of outline. His works are rare and seldom available for acquisition.