Peasants before a House
Oil on canvas
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Museum purchase, Mildred Anna Williams Collection
These contemplative figures—neither destitute nor desperate—are doubtless the tenants of this property. The stone building is typical of the Picardy region, with the staircase leading to an upper living space and a large storeroom below. For the Le Nains’ viewers, the boy’s bare feet likely recalled the Revolt of the Nu-Pieds (the barefoot ones) in 1639, when Norman peasants protested a tax on salt. Moreover, extremely devout lay men and women were encouraged to imitate the poor. In 1643, Vincent de Paul delivered a sermon in which he praised the rural poor “for their great humility; they don’t boast of what they have . . . but act in a straightforward manner . . . content with what they have.” Perhaps the original owner of this painting shared such sympathies.
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