The Road Mender (Le Cantonnier)
Armand Guillaumin, french, The Road Mender (Le Cantonnier), 1890, Oil on canvas; 59.7 cm (23 1/2 inches) (height), Helen M. Danforth Acquisition Fund 2006.22
To support his artistic career, Armand Guillaumin held a night job in the department of the French government that oversaw highway maintenance. He was personally familiar with the worker depicted here, a road mender whose task it was to shatter quarried millstone, and who was paid by the cubic foot of pebbles he produced. His pile of stones was then used to fill pot holes and to level out uneven stretches of roadway. Guillaumin’s road mender bears equipment specific to the task, including the small hammer whose handle was made of flexible green wood, a wide-brimmed hat to shade his head from the sun, and a pair of metallic goggles to protect his eyes from bits of shattered stone. Guillaumin was a regular participant in the Impressionist exhibitions of the 1870s and 1880s and was influenced by the work of Cézanne, Pissarro, and Gauguin. In 1890, when he exhibited The Road Mender at the Society of Independent Artists, he experimented with Synthetism, a style distinguished by flat, rhythmic, interlocked forms, abstracted from nature. By then he had also expanded his circle of friends to include Vincent van Gogh, an artist whose heightened sense of color matched his own.