Picking Peas (La Ceuillette des Pois),
Painting by Camille Pissarro (1830-1903),
Painted in 1887,
Gouache on paper
© Sotheby’s Paris, 25 March 2021, lot 8, sold €3.3 million
The harvest is rich but the labourers are few
Jesus made a tour through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases and sickness.
And when he saw the crowds he felt sorry for them because they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest.’
He summoned his twelve disciples, and gave them authority over unclean spirits with power to cast them out and to cure all kinds of diseases and sickness. These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them as follows: ‘Go rather to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. And as you go, proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is close at hand. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils. You received without charge, give without charge.’
Reflection on the gouache on paper
The gouache on paper work we are looking at today is by Camille Pissarro, painted in 1887. It was originally commissioned by Theo Van Gogh, Vincent's brother. He sold it and, in 1943, this work was confiscated under anti-Semitic laws passed by the collaborationist Vichy government during the German occupation of France. The painting was taken from the Jewish family it belonged to. Simon Bauer, who owned the work at the time, survived the war, but only because an industrial strike by French railwaymen stopped the train taking him to one of the concentration camps. Since then the work has had various owners, but in 2017 a French court ruled that the work had been stolen and therefore should be returned to the descendants of Bauer, which it was. In 2021, this gouache on paper sold at Sotheby's in Paris for €3.3 million.
The pastels on paper bring a softness to the work. The figures who are seen harvesting are very gracious and harmonious with nature and with the fields of peas. Jesus tells us today that the harvest is rich but the labourers are few. However, it was the last sentence of today's gospel reading which struck a chord with me at this time: ‘You received without charge, give without charge’. We often hear the expression, ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch’. It comes out of a conviction that everything has to be paid for and that we get nothing for nothing. Whereas there may be some truth in this, there is also some truth (more truth in fact!) in what Jesus says, ‘you received without charge’.
We can all think of ways in which we have been deeply graced, without our having done anything to earn or deserve this gift of grace. Many of the friendships and relationships that mean so much to us were given to us. The wonderful landscapes in nature we enjoy were simply given to us. In so many ways we have received without charge, and, as people of faith we recognise the presence of the Lord within and behind all these gifts. I see many of the artworks created throughout our Christian art history as being true gifts and graces that have enriched my life endlessly.
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Readings related to Matthew 9:35-10:1,5,6-8
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