Work in the fields

Work in the fields

  • Plowing Nivernais; the sinking.

    HAPPINESS Rosa (1822)

  • Gleaners.

    MILLET Jean-François (1814 - 1875)

  • The recall of the gleaners.

    BRETON Jules (1827 - 1906)

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Title: Plowing Nivernais; the sinking.

Author : HAPPINESS Rosa (1822 -)

Creation date : 1849

Date shown: 1849

Dimensions: Height 134 - Width 260

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot website

Picture reference: 87EE304 / RF 64

Plowing Nivernais; the sinking.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

To close

Title: Gleaners.

Author : MILLET Jean-François (1814 - 1875)

Creation date : 1857

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 83 - Width 111

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J. Schormans website

Picture reference: 82EE754-1 / RF 592

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J. Schormans

To close

Title: The recall of the gleaners.

Author : BRETON Jules (1827 - 1906)

Creation date : 1859

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 90 - Width 176

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J. Schormans website

Picture reference: 86EE52 / MI 289

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J. Schormans

Publication date: April 2005

Historical context

The representation of peasant labor through life-size figures, formerly reserved for history painting, is one of the innovations of the 19th century. The increase relates first to bread grains, on which human nutrition is based; and it is no coincidence that the scenes painted by Millet, Breton, Bastien-Lepage and Van Gogh often have a link with cereal cultivation.

Image Analysis

These tables allow us to distinguish a few stages in the cultivation of the land:
- plowing, represented by Rosa Bonheur;
- gleaning, "common law" which allows women, children and the poor in a community to pick up forgotten ears after harvest.
The work as the painters represent it is hard and tiring. Millet's gleaners are hunched over, in a painful position where the head is lower than the hips. The harshness of agricultural labor is therefore not spared by women, even if sowing and harvesting are rather reserved for men. The paintings reflect the effort of the body, bent, worn, bruised. The peasant is represented immersed in nourishing nature, not yet dependent on machines. But agricultural work is portrayed in two antagonistic ways, social criticism in Millet, glorification in Breton. In the first, the gleaners, threatening elements of a proletariat of the fields, “scarecrows in rags”, personify rural misery by their massive form and their attitude, especially since in the background, the millstones of the master offer a spectacle of abundance from which they are excluded. Even though Breton’s gleaners are barefoot and scantily clad, they appear if not dignified, with a beauty of classic caryatids, at least socially harmless, actresses of a peaceful rural life, with their jobs, their children and their gardener.

Interpretation

If Millet's first paintings caused a scandal, that of Jules Breton was a resounding success, since it was bought 8,000 francs for the imperial collection and its author was awarded the Legion of Honor in 1861. The first intends to show unvarnished the harshness of agricultural work and rural misery, while the second offers an idealized vision of social relations in the countryside; and even if Breton professed that it was necessary to give the humble "the place formerly reserved for the gods and the powerful", he nonetheless reinforces the bourgeois myth of an idyllic rural life where, as in The people by Michelet, the peasant is invested with a grandeur which ennobles him. Be that as it may, the paintings all present the image of a traditional France, where most of the work is manual, as if for the champions of rural life economic backwardness was a form of preservation. In this sense, the painters' campaign is archaic, unchanging, at a time when new techniques and the repercussions of the national market and the evolutions of the city inevitably transform the life of rural people.

  • naturalism
  • peasants
  • agricultural work
  • Third Republic
  • rural life
  • campaign
  • Michelet (Jules)

Bibliography

Caroline and Richard BRETTELLes Peintres et le Paysan au XIXe siècleGenève, Skira, 1983.Jean-Claude CHAMBOREDON "Painting of social relations and invention of the eternal peasant: the two ways of Jean-François Millet" Acts of research in social sciences, n ° 17-18, November 1977.Georges DUBY and Armand WALLON (eds.) History of rural France, Apogee and crisis of peasant civilization from 1789 to 1914 volume 3, "Apogee and crisis of peasant civilization, 1789-1914" , Seuil, 1976.Annie MOULIN The Peasants in French society from the Revolution to the present day Seuil, collection of Points, 1988.

To cite this article

Ivan JABLONKA, "Work in the fields"


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