The woman who waits her turn is capable of the same feat. There is power in every line of her figure as she stands in what has been well described by a critic as a “majestic pose.” She straightens back to rest, with her arms on her hips, quite unconscious that there is anything fine in her appearance.
Look a minute and you will see that she is the woman of the Angelus. As we saw her in the other picture, with head bowed and hands clasped on her breast, we did not realize how grand and strong she was. But raising her head, throwing back her chest, and putting her arms on her sides, she shows us now her full power.
Both women are dressed alike in the clothing which is now familiar to us from the other pictures,—coarse gowns made with scanty skirts, long aprons reaching nearly to the bottom of the dress, kerchiefs fastened snugly about their heads, and wooden sabots. We could not imagine anything that would become them better. It is part of the French nature to understand the art of dressing, and this art is found just as truly among the peasants of the provinces as in the fashionable world at Paris.
The picture is a study in black and white which any one who cares for drawing will wish to examine attentively. He was indeed a master who could, with a single bit of charcoal, make us feel the witchery of this early morning hour by the river-side. We note the many different “tones” of the picture,—the faint soft mist of the distant atmosphere over the marshes, growing darker on the poplars and the hilly bank in the middle distance; the shadow of the bank in the river; the gleam of the sunlight on the calm water mid-stream; the ripples about the jar; the sharply defined figures of the women, dark on the side turned from the sun; and the quivering shadow of the kneeling woman in the ripple-broken water in front.
Among primitive peoples the hour of sunrise was a sacred time, when hymns were sung and sacrifices were offered to the life-giving sun. The painter Millet has expressed something of the mystic solemnity of the hour in this picture. The sun has awakened the world to work, and in its strength men and women go forth to labor.
[Footnote 1: A fine passage on the morning occurs in Thoreau’s second chapter of Walden.]
FEEDING HER BIRDS
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. Sometimes, indeed, he would call them in to look at his pictures, and was always much pleased when they seemed to understand and like them. We may be sure that he often looked across the garden to the dooryard where the family life was going on, and at such times he must have caught many a pretty picture. Perhaps our picture of this mother feeding her children was suggested in this way.