The Gleaners is the most famous of Jean-Francois Millet‘s works and focuses on a trio of women collecting wheat in a field. Millet found this theme timeless, linking it to Old Testament stories. The work was met with scorn by the public, but it is important to note that Millet aims to portray these people in a sympathetic light.
Though the painting was mostly ignored during Millet’s lifetime, it was eventually donated to the Musee d’Orsay and Louvre in Paris. Despite its relatively modest realism, the work has since become a classic representation of the working class and the contrast between grinding poverty and a plentiful harvest. This painting is a testament to the power of pastoral Realism, as well as a poignant expression of a changing world.
Jean-Francois Millet’s depiction of peasant life in rural France
A man of humble origin, Jean-Francois Millet influenced many artists with his depictions of rural France’s peasants toiling on the land. His paintings of these peasants contain subtexts of religious belief and irony. Millet also avoided the academic approach to art education of his time. Rather, he co-founded the Barbizon school near Fontainebleau, where he studied with his fellow artist.
The Gleaners was Millet’s last major painting, and shows the plight of three French women who were no longer able to work in the fields. Millet’s painting is a poignant tribute to the working lives of peasants in rural France, and it is a striking testament to the dignity and resilience of the French peasant women. Despite the poor state of their circumstances, Millet’s painting won him the prize of the Paris Salon, but was rejected by the French social elite for its un-French image of rural poverty.
Criticism of The Gleaners by middle and upper classes
Critics of Millet’s The Gleaners were divided over its subject matter and the painting’s size. The painting’s dimensions of 33 by 44 inches (84 by 112 centimeters) are usually reserved for religious paintings. Yet Millet’s depiction of the lower class in a rural setting was not a representation of mythology, but a realistic portrayal of poverty. One critic focused on the three gleaners’ grossness and ugliness.
Despite being a Catholic, Millet’s painting was controversial. It looked suspiciously like a Protestant painting from northern Europe. While the middle and upper classes criticized the work, Millet himself backed away from these provocative images. However, the work’s reception by the middle and upper classes showed that the criticism was justified. It emphasized the importance of the human condition.