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. Beyond this the more prosperous have also a garden or orchard, likewise surrounded by high walls.

In the dooryard are performed many of the duties both of the barn and the house. Here the cows are milked, the horses groomed, the sheep sheared, and the poultry fed. Here, too, is the children's playground, safe from the dangers of the street, and within hearing of the mother's voice.

From a carbon print by Braun, Clément & Co. John Andrew & Son, Sc. THE WOMAN FEEDING HENS

It is into such a dooryard that we seem to be looking in this picture of The Woman Feeding Hens. It is a common enough little house which we see, built of stone, plastered over, in the fashion of the French provinces, and very low. In the long wall from the door to the garden gate is only one small high window. But time and nature have done much to beautify the spot. In the cracks of the roof, thatched or tiled, whichever it may be, many a vagrant seed has found lodgment. The weeds have grown up in profusion to cover the bare little place with leaf and flower. Indeed, there is here a genuine roof garden of the prettiest sort, and it extends along the stone wall separating the dooryard from the garden. Some one who has seen these vine-fringed walls in Barbizon describes them as gay with "purple orris, stonecrop, and pellitory."

A young wife presides in the little cottage home and rules her side of the dooryard with gentle sway. She has a curly-haired baby boy who creeps after her as she goes about her work. His inquiring mind is at this age investigating all the corners of the house, and before long he will be the young master of the dooryard.

The housewife boasts a small brood of hens. Early in the morning the voice of the chanticleer is heard greeting the dawn. Presently he leads his family forth to begin their day's scratching in the dooryard. Here and there they wander with contented clucks, as they find now and then a worm or grub for a titbit. But it is only a poor living which is to be earned by scratching. The thrifty housewife sees to it that her brood are well fed. At regular times she comes out of the house to feed them with grain, as she is doing now.

The baby hears the mother's voice saying, in what is the French equivalent, "Here chick-chick-chick," and creeps swiftly to the door. He, too, tries to call "chick-chick." He watches the odd creatures eagerly as they gobble up the seed. They stand about in a circle, heads all together in the centre, bobbing up and down as long as any food remains. Chanticleer holds back with true gallantry, and with an air of masculine superiority. The belated members of the brood come running up as fast as they can. The apron holds a generous supply, so that there is enough for all, but the housewife doles it out prudently by the handful, that none may suffer through the greediness of the others.

As we study the lines of the picture a little, they teach us some important lessons in composition. We note first the series of perpendicular lines at regular intervals across the width of the picture. These counterbalance the effect of the long perspective which is so skilfully indicated in the drawing of the house and the garden walk. The perspective is secured chiefly by three converging lines, the roof and ground lines of the house, and the line of the garden walk. These lines if extended would meet at a single point.

Once more let us recall Ruskin's teaching in regard to enclosed spaces.[1] The artist is unhappy if shut in by impenetrable barriers. There must always be, he says, some way of escape, it matters not by how narrow a path, so that the imagination may have its liberty.

This is the principle which our painter has applied in his picture. He wisely gives us a glimpse of the sky above, and shows us the shady vista of the garden walk leading to the great world beyond.

Our illustration is from a charcoal drawing, which, like the Knitting Lesson, is matched by a corresponding painting.


In Modern Painters in the chapter on "Infinity."