The French 1884 oil on canvas painting The Song of the Lark by Jules-Adolphe Breton draws grasps a viewer’s attention. It draws an observer in by its intense but subtle subject matter and by the luminous sun in the background. Without the incandescent sun and the thoughtful look of the young woman, it would just be a bland earth-toned farm landscape. However, Breton understood what to add to his painting in order to give it drama that would instantly grab an onlooker’s interest.
The focus of the painting is a young woman, most likely in her late teens or early twenties. She works in the fields with her farming tool in hand and a bandana keeping her hair back. One can tell her is of modest means by her simple and somewhat ragged clothing and also by her lack of shoes. The girl is on her way to work, passing through a withered field on the outskirts of a small town, when she glances up to look at the lark singing its morning song. Although the lark is not portrayed in the painting, the deep gaze of the girl shows that she is mesmerized by this simple joy.
The background image is a sunrise over a small village. The sun stands out from the earthy tones of the rest of the background. It looks as if it was colored in with a pink highlighter. The pure radiance of the sunrise captures the attention of bystander. The luminosity of the sun is surrounded by a yellow skyline with brown houses of the rural community below it. Surrounding the houses is a field of green grass, but as you follow the path that the girl is on the lush carpet of healthy grass turns into a withered field. This shows that the crops where the girl works have not produced enough food for that season, making the girl short on income. The barefoot worker in the foreground is dressed in a plain black skirt with a navy workers’ apron and soiled white blouse. Along with the bandana and lack of shoes, the mud stained on the hem of her skirt shows that she works long and hard in the fields. She walks with her left foot in front of the other, showing that she was in the process of walking, but the expression on her face shows that she stopped for a moment when the beauty of the lark caught her by surprise.
What made Breton capture this particular moment of the girl’s walk is her interest in the music made by the lark off in the distance. To many, a bird’s chirp is nothing to stop and amaze about, but to his poor worker, the song hit a special place in her heart. The young woman looks up to the right to something we cannot see, but the title of the work tells us that it is a lark. Her wide-open eyes gaze on to this simple wonder. Her mouth gapes in amazement as this humble joy. Her lips give the appearance that the lark as caught her breath and for a moment she was completely moved by this act of...