At this time in his career, Martin was greatly influenced by the post impressionists. Light had filled his canvas following a scholarship from the Salon to study in Italy and he had moved away from historical and biblical subjects painted in a precise academic tradition to light-filled, dream-like, often symbolist, tranquil canvases painted en plein air, merging an impressionist and pointillist technique with idyllic interpretations of the landscape. He largely abandoned allegory for depictions of joyful nature shrouded in a hazy glow.
In this sun-filled depiction of La Moisson (‘The Harvest’) we can clearly see Van Gogh’s influence in the flecked, directional brushstrokes and the golden and blue colours. Martin employs an expressive earthy style, which conveys the bright sunshine with strong shadows and melodious flecks of colour, sometimes spiralling in harmonious movement around the figures who are bent at their work of gathering the harvest. The painting is a celebration of the natural rhythm of agricultural life and the quiet harmony of figures engaged in a landscape. It conjures a nostalgic image of the centuries-old occupation of man working in and with nature, the simplicity of a rural life, the peaceful, timeless beauty of the landscape of Languedoc - a bucolic idyll unchanged from Virgil to Baudelaire.
This painting pre-figures Martin’s monumental work depicting ‘Agriculture’ which decorates the principal salle at the French Supreme Court, the Conseil d’Etat, in the Palais Royal, Paris, opposite the Louvre. This was a commission in 1914 for a series of four vast canvases depicting the labours of France: ‘Agriculture’, ‘Commerce’, ‘Industry’ and ‘Intellectual’ work. It was one of Martin’s most prestigious and financially rewarding commissions and meant that he could illustrate, in a large format, many of the themes that he carried through in his paintings. The painting in the General Assembly has a more elongated format and although not identical in construction, bears many resemblances to this painting in the position of the clumps of trees, the relationships between the figures and the golden, hazy light.
Another painting by Henri Martin on view at The Vineyard, Le Port de Marseille (c. 1910) is also a precursor of the large paintings in the Conseil d’Etat, this time symbolising ‘Commerce’.
A shy, quiet character, Henri Martin remained independent, refusing to be contracted to one particular Parisian dealer, despite the success garnered by many of his contemporaries by such arrangements. He won praise and medals at the Paris Salon and became a member of the Legion of Honour. In 1900 he bought Marquayrol, an old farmhouse near Labastide-du-Vert in the Lot Valley. The house, his family and the beautiful landscape provided him with inspiration for the rest of his life. Martin sought to convey the colours and textures of the changing seasons and the ancient rhythm of the agricultural world.