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Estelle M. Hurll

The early twilight of autumn has overtaken two peasants at the close of a day's work in the field. They are gathering the potato harvest. The dried plants are first pulled up, and the potatoes carefully dug out of the holes. Then the vegetables are taken from the furrows by the basketful, and poured into brown linen sacks to be carried home on the wheelbarrow. One of these sacks is not yet quite full, and the work has been prolonged after sunset.

The artist Millet loved to draw as well as to paint. Black and white pictures had their charm for him as truly as those in color. Indeed, he once said that "tone," which is the most important part of color, can be perfectly expressed in black and white. It is therefore not strange that he made many drawings. Some of these, like the Knitting Lesson and the Woman Feeding Hens, were, as we have seen, studies for paintings. The picture called Filling the Water-Bottles was, on the other hand, a charcoal drawing, corresponding to no similar painting. It is in itself a finished work of art.

As we have already seen in the picture of the Woman Feeding Hens, the dooryard in French village homes is so shut in by walls, that it has the privacy of a family living-room. This was the arrangement in Millet's own home at Barbizon. The painter was among the fortunate ones who had a garden beyond the dooryard. At the other end of this was his studio, where he worked many hours of the day. It is said that he used to leave the door open that he might hear the children's voices at their play.

The village-commune of Gréville has nothing to make it famous except that it was the birthplace of the painter Millet. It is at the tip of Cape La Hague, which juts abruptly from the French coast into the English channel. The cape is a steep headland bristling with granite rocks and needles, and very desolate seen from the sea. Inland it is pleasant and fruitful, with apple orchards and green meadows.

It is nightfall, and the sky is cloudy save where the last rays of the setting sun illumine a spot on the horizon. While the light lasts, the Sower still holds to his task of sowing the seed. A large sack of grain is fastened about his body and hangs at his left side, where one end of it is grasped firmly in the left hand lest any of the precious seed be spilled. Into this bag he plunges his right hand from time to time, and draws out a handful of grain which he flings into the furrow as he walks along.

It is harvest time on a large farm. The broad fields have been shorn of their golden grain, and men and women are still busy gathering it in. The binders have tied the wheat in sheaves with withes, the sheaves are piled upon a wagon and carried to a place near the farm buildings, where they are stacked in great mounds resembling enormous soup tureens. The overseer rides to and fro on his horse giving orders to the laborers.

To the peasant farmer every month of the year brings its own labors. From seed time to harvest there is a constant succession of different tasks, and hardly is the harvest gathered in before it is time to prepare again for planting. Before ploughing can be begun the fields must first be cleared of stubble and weeds. Now in Millet's village of Barbizon, this clearing of the fields was done, in his day, by means of an implement called in French a houe.

In studying the works of any great painter many questions naturally arise as to the personality of the man himself and the influences which shaped his life. Some such questions have already been answered as we have examined these fifteen pictures by Millet. Jean François Millet, we have learned, was of peasant parentage and spent the greater part of his life in the country. His pious Norman ancestors bequeathed him a rich heritage of strong and serious traits. From them, too, he drew that patience and perseverance which helped him to overcome so many obstacles in his career.

Since the death of Millet, in 1875, much that is interesting and valuable has been written of his life and work. The first biography of the painter was that by his friend Sensier, in a large illustrated volume whose contents have been made familiar to English readers by an abridged translation published in this country simultaneously with the issue of the French edition.

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