Work in the fields

Wheat fields, types of wheat and the ear of wheat are recurrent motifs in Dufy’s work, appearing very early on – around 1910, particularly in his engravings – then later in his textile works (La Moisson [The Harvest] in 1919 for the firm Bianchini Ferrier) and his ceramics. In the early thirties he returned to this agrarian theme, particularly when he went to Langres between 1933 and 1936: there he combined his taste for large areas of flat colour with a multitude of drawn signs: ears of corn, stubble, millstone to “emphasise the strength of the stubble and the weight of the ear, to suggest the wind blowing on the shimmer of the field.” Dufy admired Van Gogh’s hallucinatory wheat fields, yet his own are bucolic and timeless, harking back to an idealised France.

For Dufy this was an opportunity to show the age-old farming gestures – reaping, threshing, stacking – until the arrival of the steam-driven threshing machine brought a new productivity to agriculture, replacing animal and human strength with the energy of steam. This theme reappeared during and after the war. Dépiquage (or La batteuse à vapeur/The Steam Thresher), his last painting, was found unfinished on his easel when he died in 1953.

Other rural activities are in progress. Adjacent to the typically half-timbered Norman farmhouse – a reminder that Dufy is still in his familiar world of Normandy, and more generally of France – is a forge with a blacksmith shoeing a horse. In the thirties, the horse was an essential force for all work in the fields, as indicated by the cart next to it.

La Fée Electricité

A little further on, three rope-makers are engaged in a craft still practised in the 1930s, but doomed to disappear with electrification of the machines.

La Fée Electricité

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