55) The Gleaners by Jean-Francois Millet 1814-1875
Millet was a peasant from Normandy who studied with Paul Delaroche. The painting represents French peasants gleaning that is, following after the harvesters and picking up the spilled grains of wheat left behind.This is described in the Old Testament in the story of Ruth and Naomi. It is a reminder of the plight of the desperately poor rural peasantry. Millet first a portrait painter turned to the country side in which he had been raised and depicted the simplest humblest peasants with a reverence and religious dignity. This is austere and extremely serious art. In a way, it is almost the opposite of the Gerome's with their nearly frivolous but slightly self important subject matter and fascination with the trappings of wealth, rarity and antiquity. Below is The Sower painted in 1850.
Here is a representation of a peasant sowing grain by hand is the ancient way that is was done from prehistoric times. He is presented heroically against the sky in the failing light. Behind his sowing hand are birds, that will undoubtedly claim their share of the seed.
Although supported by a few patrons Millet's art was not particularly well received until he was old. His rough, simplified handling was perfectly suited to his subject matter and basic and brutal. Alongside the highly polished works of many of the salon painters with whom he was displayed, his art seemed at first to be too roughly made and his political sensibilities made patrons uneasy. But the paintings dignity and depictions of the eternal and most ancient simple means of life, which were to vanish in a generation have a evocative power, and "remember" well. They are Old Testament Biblical in their sternness and themes.