Frédéric Back has always preferred the colours of the rural landscape to the grey of the city. He grew up in Strasbourg, but it was when he visited his aunts and uncles in rural Alsace that he felt himself breathe more easily. As a young man, he discovered the pleasure of touching the earth while working in the fields alongside the local farmers. In 1941, at the Beaux-Arts in Rennes, his teacher, Mathurin Méheut, encouraged him to get out into nature and to paint Brittany and its people from life. The gouache drawings and the memories he has kept from that time show his deep respect for the soil and the people who work it. "At the time, there were fruit trees scattered all around the fields, and the farmers worked beneath them, using horses or oxen to plough. The enclosures were marked off by rows of trees and hedges that sheltered all kinds of animals. […] From above, it all looked like an enormous forest. The landscapes were beautiful, different everywhere you went – an eloquent illustration of old traditions and knowledge."
In 1948, the young painter discovered rural life in Quebec. He began an illustrated book project to document and salute the patient work of the 'artisan farmers' who sow and reap, season after season. "Their occupation is the noblest in the world, because it makes everything else possible." Twenty years later, Frédéric Back and his wife, Ghylaine, would buy an abandoned farm that let them breathe freely once again and rediscover the gestures and rhythms of the seasons.