Léon-Augustin L’Hermitte (French, 1844-1925) was a draftsman, printmaker and illustrator. The only son of a village schoolmaster, his precocious drawing skills won him an annual grant from the state. In 1863, he went to Paris and became a student at the Petite Ecole. Many of the friends he made at school went on to great careers, including August Rodin. In 1864, L’Hermitte’s charcoal drawing, Banks of the Marne near Alfort was exhibited at the Salon. He continued to exhibit his drawings at Salon, but in 1866 his first oil painting, Violets in a Glass, Shells, Screen was also exhibited at Salon, as was his first etching.
In 1869 he made his first visit to London, where he met Alphonse Legros, who later recommended him as an illustrator for Works of Art in the Collections of England Drawn by E. Lie, and also introduced him to a dealer who would go on to sell several of L’Hermitte’s drawings. L’Hermitte won a third-class medal in the Salon of 1874 for his painting The Harvest that was bought by the state. In 1879, Degas noted in a sketchbook his intention to invite L’Hermitte to exhibit with the Impressionists, but L’Hermitte never participated in any of their shows. The Tavern, exhibited in the Salon of 1881, initiated the monumental series of paintings on the life of the agricultural worker that came closest to justifying van Gogh’s admiring appellation, “Millet of the Second”. The next in the series, Harvester’s Payday, was bought by the state and became the artist’s best-known work. The Harvest, the third in the series, was included with ten charcoal drawings in the Exposition Nationale in 1883. L’Hermitte received the Légion d’honneur in 1884 when he exhibited the fourth monumental composition, Grape Harvest.
In 1894 he was made an officer of the Legion d’honneur. He continued to exhibit in the first decades of the 20th century, when he was generally seen as a relic of a bygone era, although his style later had an influence on Socialist Realism. Increasingly he worked in pastel, his draftsman’s skill ever in evidence, producing some sensitive portraits and peasant scenes reminiscent of his earlier and more power depictions, that van Gogh had cited as “an ideal”.
L’Hermitte’s work is in the collections of numerous fine art museums, among them the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Musee d’Orsay, Paris, and the Museum of Fine Art, Saintes, France.