A boy lies in the hay, abandoned to sleep. His snowy white shirt stands out against the green of the not-yet-dry hay strewn around him, his soil-stained bare feet are pointed toward us, his wide-brimmed straw hat lies abandoned beside him. His overalls are crumpled and stained; his vest lies open in the sun-lit warmth.
The wooden walls behind him frame the hay he lies on, and we see the color of his hair echoed in the detail of those walls. His feet rest on sandy-colored soil. As he sleeps he lies sprawled diagonally across the scene in front of us, so that our eye follows his figure from feet to head, from light to darker.
We look up from the lightness of the soil past his soil-stained feet to the pale circle of his face. Every detail we notice tells us something about him. It is an idyllic and beautifully composed picture.
In his clothing we see his activeness, in his rest innocence, in his person fragility.
The Swiss artist Albert Anker worked in the late nineteenth century. His paintings focused on life in the small provincial town he lived in. He showed life there both as he knew it and as he hoped it could be.
The children he painted were busy about their lives. In his work you can see the care with which he observed and recorded them at work, as they learned, and at play. He knew well what those lives were about.
He also knew how fragile their lives were – both his siblings died, leaving him his parents’ only surviving child. As a father, he enjoyed – and observed – his own children, and also grieved. Two of his six children died when they were young.
Art reflects the lives and thoughts of the person creating it. Here we see an active young boy resting for a little while, sleeping in the hay – and we also see his innocence and his vulnerability.
And the vulnerability of the artist?