Article written by Trevor Knapp
The Wood Gatherer (1881) – Oil on canvas, 77 1/2 x 71 1/2″ (196.85 x 181.61 cm)
Creator: Jules Bastien-Lepage (French, 1848-1884)
Just revisited this painting in Milwaukee recently, I try to never miss a chance to do so. I’ve grown up around this painting – from being an oddball high school student interested in street art and current trends in Art to finding my voice as a painter/printmaker deeply invested in old master studies… The Wood Gatherers by Jules Bastien-LePage was always noticed by my early and now eyes. The greatness of its size, yet its humility in the subject matter always brought forth a sense of awe in me.
The old man, carrying his heavy load through the thick woods, with this young girl, as if to carry the weight of the world so that the youth can live more carefreely. Its message sits right in front of you clear as day, but that doesn’t take away its grandiosity. How real it appears from afar, only to move closer and find its impressionist brushmaking.
LePage channeled the beasts of both ends in his time: the light and loose feeling that the Impressionists achieved, to that fine and strong edge of Realism. It is sad that LePage died too early, as you can see his incredible gift in every work he created during his time. But man, I am just thankful he was here to complete the works he made. I urge you: If you are in Milwaukee, go to Milwaukee Art Museum’s 2nd Floor Gallery where this titan of a painting rests.