It is evident, then, that we here see the plain of Barbizon and true Barbizon peasants of Millet’s day. The villagers of the painter’s acquaintance were on the whole a prosperous class, nearly all owning their houses and a few acres of ground. The big apple-tree under which the donkey rests is just such an one as grew in Millet’s own little garden.
Fruit trees were his peculiar delight. He knew all their ways, and “all their special twists and turnings;” how the leaves of the apple-tree are bunched together on their twigs, and how the roots spread under ground. “Any artist,” he used to say, “can go to the East and paint a palm-tree, but very few can paint an apple-tree.”
[Footnote 1: From Edward Wheelwright’s Recollections of Jean Francois Millet, in Atlantic Monthly, September, 1876.]
THE WOMAN SEWING BY LAMPLIGHT
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.
There is contentment in every line of the face of this Woman Sewing by Lamplight. It is the face of a happy young wife and mother. She sits close by her baby’s bedside that she may listen to his gentle breathing as he sleeps, and she smiles softly to herself while she sews. It is a sweet face which bends over the work, and it is framed in the daintiest of white caps edged with a wide ruffle which is turned back over the hair above the forehead, that it may not shade her eyes.
The garment that lies on her lap is of some coarse heavy material. No dainty bit of fancy work is this, but a plain piece of mending. It may be the long cloak which the shepherd wraps about him in cold and stormy weather. Made from the wool grown on his own sheep, spun by his wife’s own hand, it is unrivalled among manufactured cloths for warmth and comfort. The needle is threaded with a coarse thread of wool, which the sewer draws deftly through the cloth.
On a pole which runs from floor to ceiling is a hook, from which a lamp is suspended by a chain. This lamp appears to be a boat-shaped vessel with the wick coming out at one end. The light gilds the mother’s gentle profile with shining radiance; it illumines the fingers of her right hand, and gleams on the coarse garment in her lap, transforming it into a cloth of gold.
[Illustration: From a carbon print by Braun, Clement & Co. THE WOMAN SEWING BY LAMPLIGHT John Andrew & Son, Sc.]