We know that this is a Norman peasant woman from her tall cap. There are many styles of caps peculiar to different parts of France, but those worn in Normandy are remarkable for their height. When some of the people of this province emigrated to the western continent and settled in Acadia, the land of Evangeline, the women brought their caps with them and continued to wear them many years, as we read in Longfellow’s “Evangeline.”
Our previous studies of the other pictures of this collection help us to see at once the good points of composition in the Woman Churning. The main lines of the group in the foreground form a tall pyramid. The shape of the churn gives us the line at the right side, and the figure of the cat carries the line of the woman’s skirt into a corresponding slant on the left. The lines of the tiled floor add to the pyramidal effect by converging in perspective. Even the broom leaning against the shelf near the door takes the same diagonal direction as the tiles of the right side.
We have here also a new illustration of the art of treating inclosed spaces. An outlet is given to the room through the door opening into the farmyard. Across the yard stands a low cow-shed, in which a woman is seated milking a cow. This building, however, does not altogether block up the view from the dairy door. Above the roof is a strip of sky, and through a square window at the back is seen a bit of the meadow.
[Footnote 1: From Ronsard’s “Hymn to St. Blaise,” translated by Henry Naegely in J.F. Millet and Rustic Art.]
[Footnote 2: See chapters ii. and vi.]
THE MAN WITH THE HOE
To the peasant farmer every month of the year brings its own labors. From seed time to harvest there is a constant succession of different tasks, and hardly is the harvest gathered in before it is time to prepare again for planting. Before ploughing can be begun the fields must first be cleared of stubble and weeds. Now in Millet’s village of Barbizon, this clearing of the fields was done, in his day, by means of an implement called in French a houe. Although we translate the word as hoe, the tool is quite unlike the American article of that name. It looks a little like a carpenter’s adze, though much larger and heavier, the blade being as broad as that of a shovel. The handle is short and the implement is very clumsy and fatiguing to use. Even the stoutest peasant finds the work wearisome.
The man in our picture has paused for a moment’s rest in this toilsome labor, and leans panting on his hoe. In the heat of his toil he has thrown off his hat and blouse, which now lie together on the ground behind him. His damp hair is matted together on his forehead, his brawny chest is exposed by the open shirt, his horny hands are clasped over the hoe handle. Some distant object catches his eye. It may be a farm wagon moving across the plain, or perhaps a bird flying through the clear air. To follow the course of such an object a moment is a welcome change from the monotonous rise and fall of the hoe.