Although made by a virtual unknown, this photograph possesses the aesthetic sophistication and technical mastery of the most advanced works of the 1850s. Unlike his Parisian counterparts, however, this artist exploited the large scale and dramatic lighting commonly reserved for the depiction of monumental architecture and historic statuary for a rustic, vernacular scene.
Renewed attention to seventeenth-century Dutch genre scenes spurred an interest among pre-Impressionist painters in the motif of the humble cottage, most often centering on the structure in the context of a landscape or on its role as a setting for manual labor, as in the work of Jean-François Millet. In this photograph, a whirlwind of disorder and patchwork of intense light and shadow, the half-timbered, thatch-roofed barn and farmyard implements—rakes, baskets, butter churns, buckets—suggest the activity of rural life. The innovative pictorial approach, with multiple and competing points of focus, closely parallels a natural way of seeing the world.