If you will try in turn each one of the positions taken by the several figures, you will see how differently the three work. The two who put the grain in the apron, or pass it into the hand which rests on the knee, must every time lift themselves up with an awkward backward motion. The younger gleaner has found a short and direct route from one hand to the other, by resting the left hand, palm up, upon the back, where the right can reach it by a simple upward motion of the arm which requires no exertion of the body. Her method saves the strength and is more graceful.
Moving forward in the stooping posture, with eyes fixed upon the ground, the figures of the gleaners have been compared to great grasshoppers, making their odd, irregular, hopping progress across the field. Even as we look they seem to move toward us.
The picture is a fine study in lines. The middle figure is constructed in a square outline, and this square effect is emphasized in various ways,—by the right angle formed between the line across the bust and the right arm, by the square corner between chin and neck, and by the square shape of the kerchief at the back of the head. We thus get an idea of the solid, prosaic character of the woman herself.
The younger woman is a creature of beautiful curves. The lines of her back and bust flow together in an oval figure which the position of the left arm completes. The outstretched right arm continues the fine line across the back. The lovely curve of the throat, the shapeliness of the hand, even the pretty adjustment of the kerchief, lend added touches to the charm of the youthful figure.
The lines of the standing figure curve towards the other two, and carry the composition to sufficient height. The lines enclosing the entire group form a mound-like figure not unlike a wheat stack in shape. A wheat stack faintly seen across the distance in the centre of the field marks the apex of the mound, the sides being formed by the outer lines of the two outer figures.
When we compare the picture with the others we have seen in the same general style of composition, showing a level plain with figures in front, we note how much more detail the background of the Gleaners contains. This is because the figures do not come above the horizon line, as do those in the Angelus and Shepherdess. Hence the eye must be led upward by minor objects, to take in the entire panorama spread before us.
[Footnote 1: See the Book of Ruth.]
[Footnote 2: Leviticus, chapter xxiii., verse 22.]
[Footnote 3: Deuteronomy, chapter xxiv., verse 19.]