Renowned peasant painter Jean François Millet painted "Peasant Woman Raking" in about 1860, after earning notoriety in 1850 with his "Sower" (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) and in 1857 with his "Gleaners" (Musée d’Orsay, Paris), which conservative viewers interpreted as a critique of the Second Empire’s prosperity. "Peasant Woman Raking" is the second small painting Millet executed after one of ten rustic figures he published in 1853 in the Parisian journal "L’Illustration" (the related variant of which is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Millet’s notoriety brought few financial rewards, and over the decade following his move to the village of Barbizon in 1849, he made his living by selling small pictures such as this one. These show women and men engaged in outdoor labor and domestic chores and constitute a celebration of the new “common man.” Van Gogh made several paintings after Millet’s 1853 prints (including Peasant Woman Raking), one indication of the enduring strength of the French painter’s conception of the dignity of peasant life.
Written by Robert Herbert, Professor Emeritus of Humanities, Mount Holyoke College
women; domestic space; farm equipment; farmers; workers; environment; landscapes
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