A picture like this teaches us that there are other ways of giving a figure beauty than by making the face pretty. Just as Millet’s Shepherdess differs altogether from the little Bopeep of the nursery tale, so this peasant girl is not at all like the pretty milkmaids who carry milking-stools and shining pails through the pages of the picture books. Millet had no patience with such pictures. Pretty girls were not fit for hard work, he said, and he always wanted to have the people he painted look as if they belonged to their station. Fitness was in his mind one of the chief elements of beauty.
So he shows us in this Milkmaid a young woman framed in the massive proportions of an Amazon, and eminently fitted for her lot in life. Her chief beauty lies in the expression of her splendidly developed figure. Her choicest gifts are the health and virtue which most abound in the free life of God’s country.
“God made the country, and man made
What wonder, then, that health and virtue, gifts
That can alone make sweet the bitter draught
That life holds out to all, should most abound
And least be threatened in the fields and groves."
A study of the lines of the picture will show the artistic beauty of the composition. You may trace a long beautiful curve beginning at the girl’s finger tip and extending along the cord across the top of the milk jar. Starting from the same point another good line follows the arm and shoulder across the face and along the edge of the jar. At the base of the composition we find corresponding lines which may be drawn from the toe of the right foot. One follows the diagonal of the path and the other runs along the edge of the lifted skirt.
There are other fine lines in the drawing of the bodice and the folds of the skirt. Altogether they are as few in number and as strongly emphasized, though not so grand, as those of the Sower.
[Footnote 1: The title of Water-Carrier has been incorrectly attached to this picture, though the sketch on which it is based is properly known as the Milkmaid.]
[Footnote 2: From Cowper’s Task.]
THE WOMAN CHURNING
Again we are in the picturesque province of Normandy, and are shown the interior of a dairy where a woman is busy churning. It is a quaint place, with raftered ceiling and stone-paved floor, and the furnishings are only such as are required by the work in hand. On some wooden shelves against the farther wall are vessels of earthenware and metal, to hold cream, cheese, butter, and the like. The churn is one of the old-fashioned upright sort, not unlike those used in early New England households, and large enough to contain a good many quarts of cream. The woman stands beside it, grasping with both hands the handle of the dasher, or plunger, which is worked up and down to keep the cream in motion and so change it into butter.