Jean François Millet Gleaners

The Gleaners” is the greatest picture of the subject ever painted. lt is the Work of Jean Francois Millet, a celebrated French artist, and now hangs in the Louvre, Paris. ln this immortal masterpiece Millet has painted something more than mere workers gleaning in the fields. He has lovingly rendered the spirit of their work, the qualities of their thought—simplicity, dignity, patience, and forbearance.


Picture Study – “The Gleaners”
By Elizabeth Jane Merrill

His masterpiece, “The Gleaners,” is the greatest picture of the subject ever painted. It is the work of Jean Francois Millet and now hangs in the Louvre, Paris. How simply the master has painted this picture, showing three peasant women working in the fields. Millet knew such workers well, for his own mother had always helped with the outdoor work.

Millet loved the peasants and their simple, patient way of working. In this painting see how he has made the workers, almost entirely massed below the sky line, of first importance, and has kept the rest of the picture secondary in interest. How well he has balanced his masses. On the left the two low-bending figures, the straw stacks and the high wagons in the background, together with the unbroken horizon line, exactly balance the half-raised woman and the long sky line, broken by a few peasant homes and trees, with a horse and rider as a note of accent.

Notice the bulk, the mass, of these figures. Painting largely from memory, Millet retained and pictured the big truths and avoided petty details. With mastery he expressed moving bones and working muscles. See how strong the arms appear to be, how well they are joined to the body, how they swing in rhythmical motion as the women stoop to pick up the stray wisps of grain. The right arms swing down to earth, up to the bundle in the left, down and up; one can almost feel the swinging motion as the workers move over the fields. Such dignity and beauty is expressed by these peasants, that they remind us of some of the great sculpture.

Have you noticed that the woman on the left works with left arm across her back? This position distributes the weight and so is restful and natural.

The half-lifted figure on the right forms a beautiful sweeping curve against the fields, which is echoed or repeated by the bending backs of the other two, and again, slightly varied, by the stacks of straw in the distance. It is a simple arrangement of parts that forms a beautiful harmony, centralized in interest.

Let us see if you can imagine and place in your memory the color harmony of “The Gleaners,” as I tell it to you. The sky is gray-blue with a touch of pink, a sky that does not attract the attention from the lower part of the picture. The straw stacks are warm yellow, melting into a deeper red-brown tone on the left. On the right the yellow has faded to a lighter tint, almost gray-green, while in the far distance there is a suggestion of purple.

The figure on the right is dressed in washed-out blue, the skirt darker, with cap of yellow-brown, apron similar in color but with more red, harmonizing with the red-brown foreground which grows darker toward the lower right corner of the picture.

The middle figure wears a dark brown skirt and blouse of very pale blue, with cap and oversleeves of red.

A deep blue cap, beautiful against the yellow fields, a darker skirt, and a blouse suggestive of red-brown, are worn by the worker on the left.

The face and hands of all three are bronzed by the long hours spent in the hot sun.

You see that the pale blue skirt on the right and the blouse in the middle, so effectively paced against the dark skirt, echo the rich blue cap on the left.

Millet knew how to balance masses of color as well as masses of form. His pictures are beautiful expressions of what he loved because he knew how to compose and arrange, to balance color and masses of light and dark, so that everything keeps its proper place. They are masterpieces of art in true beauty of line, form, and color. “So it is not only what Millet painted but very largely the way he painted that gives to him a place with the great masters.

These are additional questions than the ones found in Intermediate Language Lessons Part 3 Lesson 7. They are optional and can be used to further the study.

1. Do you know the name of the artist who painted this picture and the country in which he lived?
2. Can you find on the map the country, the section in which he was born, and the big city near which he lived for so many years?
3. Can you name a man in history famous as a conqueror, who came from Normandy!
4. Do you know of any particular country which made war on France during Millet’s lifetime?
5. Can you give the name of the great art gallery in Paris in which Millet spent so much time?
6. What is the name of this masterpiece and what is the meaning of the word?
7. Millet’s pictures are not filled with pretty people; then why do we love them?
8. Do you think Millet painted the truth about the people working in the fields?


Filed under: Part 3 - Picture Study

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