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Estelle M. Hurll

In the picture we have been examining we have seen something of the outdoor life of the French peasants, and now we are shown the interior of one of their houses, where a Knitting Lesson is being given. The girls of the French peasantry are taught only the plainest kinds of needlework. They have to begin to make themselves useful very early in life, and knitting is a matter of special importance. In these large families many pairs of stockings are needed, and all must be homemade. This is work which the little girls can do while the mother is busy with heavier labors.

All through the years of Millet's life and work in Barbizon, his thoughts used to turn often to the little village in Normandy where he spent his youth. His early life in the fields impressed upon his memory all the out-of-door sights peculiar to his native province. The customs of peasants in France differ in the various provinces just as do ours in the various states. Some of the household utensils in Millet's childhood's home were such as he never saw elsewhere, and always remembered with pleasure.

In the picture called The Potato Planters we are reminded at once of the peasants we have already seen in Going to Work. We see here married people a few years older than the young people of the other picture working together in the fields.

Though the peasant women of France have so large a share in the laborious out-of-door work on the farms, they are not unfitted for domestic duties. In the long winter evenings they devote themselves to more distinctly woman's tasks, knitting and sewing, sometimes even spinning and weaving. Their housekeeping is very simple, for they live frugally, but they know how to make the home comfortable. Many modern inventions are still unknown to them, and we should think their customs very primitive, but on this account they are perhaps even more picturesque.

Many years ago the early English poet, Sir Philip Sidney, wrote a book about an imaginary country called Arcadia, noted for the sweetness of the air and the gentle manners of the people. As he described the beauties of the scenery there, he told of "meadows enamelled with all sorts of eye-pleasing flowers; each pasture stored with sheep feeding with sober security; here a shepherd's boy piping as though he should never be old; there a young shepherdess knitting and withal singing, and it seemed that her voice comforted her hands to work, and her hands kept time to her voice-music."

In walking through a French village, we get as little idea of the home life of the people as if we were in a large town or city. The houses usually border directly upon the street, and the spaces between are closed with high walls, shutting in the thoroughfare as completely as in a city "block." Behind these barriers each family carries on its domestic affairs in the privacy of its own domain. The cour, or dooryard, is the enclosure adjoining the house, and is surrounded on all sides by buildings or walls.

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.

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