It is interesting to trace the outlines of the composition. There is first the long line on the Sower’s right side, beginning at the shoulder and following the outer edge of the right leg to the ground. On the other side, curving to meet this, is a line which begins at the top of the head, follows the left arm and the overhanging sack, and is faintly continued by the tiny stream of seed which leaks from the corner of the bag and falls near the Sower’s foot. Crossing these curves in the opposite direction are the lines of the right arm and the left leg. Thus the figure is painted in strong simple outlines such as we see in the statues by great sculptors.
The line defining the edge of the field against the sky, sloping in the direction in which the Sower walks, adds to the impression of motion which is so strongly suggested by the picture. As we look, we almost expect to see the Sower reach the foot of the slope, and stride out of sight, still flinging the grain as he goes.
There is another thing to note about the composition, and that is the perfect proportion of the single figure to the canvas which it so completely fills. This was the result of the painter’s experiments. In the haste of his first inspiration he did not allow space enough to surround the Sower. He then carefully traced the figure on a larger canvas and made a second picture. Afterwards the same subject was repeated in a Barbizon landscape.
Our American poet William Cullen Bryant has written a poem called “The Song of the Sower,” which is very suggestive in connection with Millet’s painting. This is the way the song ends:—
“Brethren, the sower’s task
The seed is in its winter bed.
Now let the dark-brown mould be spread,
To hide it from the sun,
And leave it to the kindly care
Of the still earth and brooding air,
As when the mother, from her breast,
Lays the hushed babe apart to rest,
And shades its eyes, and waits to see
How sweet its waking smile will be.
The tempest now may smite, the sleet
All night on the drowned furrow beat,
And winds that, from the cloudy hold,
Of winter breathe the bitter cold,
Stiffen to stone the yellow mould,
Yet safe shall lie the wheat;
Till, out of heaven’s unmeasured blue
Shall walk again the genial year,
To wake with warmth and nurse with dew
The germs we lay to slumber here.”
[Footnote 1: For farmer’s lore as to the diverse soils and diverse planting seasons, see Virgil’s Eclogues, books i. and ii.]
[Footnote 2: In spite of this imperfection the first Sower is a highly prized painting and is in the Quincy-Shaw Collection, Boston.]
[Footnote 3: Compare also Victor Hugo’s poem, often referred to in descriptions of this picture, Saison des Semailles: Le Soir.]