Franz Xaver Gräßel

On the Way Home, 1885

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A farmer's wife carries a load on her back and her child in her arms. The barren vegetation and the dry stone walls suggest that this scene is taking place in the upland region of the Black Forest. Gräßel illustrates just how arduous the life of the farmers was in those days.
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Franz Gräßel chose an unusual composition for this painting. A peasant woman wearing a traditional dress and hat walks along a narrow path. The path leads through a drystone wall running diagonally across the picture; the wooden gate in the wall stands open. In front of the gate is a wooden crucifix protected by a small roof. The cloud-filled sky and vegetation suggest that it is a summer day. The woman carries a large sack on her back and a small child in her arms. Presumably she has spent the day collecting herbs in a mountain meadow along with the child, and is now bringing home what she gathered in the course of the day. Since there are no trees in the picture and the vegetation appears very barren, the scene probably takes place at a high elevation on one of the Black Forest mountaintops where no trees grow due to the strong winds. Farmers used the stones and rubble scattered on the hilltops to build walls for cattle pastures; the drystone wall in this image, however, seems somewhat dilapidated, and a birch twig sprouts from the masonry on the left. The weary demeanor of the woman as she carries home the plants she has painstakingly collected likewise reveals how toilsome farmers’ lives in the mountains of the Black Forest must have been. Her child probably helped gather the herbs, but was then too exhausted to make the arduous descent into the valley. Gräßel’s painting doubtless conveys a subtle social critique that has little to do with romantic images of the Black Forest. TILMANN VON STOCKHAUSEN (Transl. MELISSA THORSON)

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