The Mill Stream is quite typical of Henri-Joseph Harpignies’ mature work. Although he enjoyed Italian scenery, Harpignies spent most of his time as an artist in various regions of his native country. This work is one of his many views of the French countryside. A lazy stream leading through a pasture to a village, a boy fishing, and two peasants are represented in his usual straightforward manner, without sentimentality or drama.
The painting shows the artist’s preference for fine weather and summer days, which help establish the tranquility of the scene, as do the predominant creamy blues, greens, and beiges. To invigorate this simple scene, Harpignies has skillfully varied the paint application: in the foreground he brushed on his oils in emphatic dabs, cursive strokes, and long, calligraphic lines, while farther back his paint is blended to create depth. This painting technique tends to eliminate details, yet Harpignies nevertheless defines landscape and architectural forms enough to give structure to his work.