Title: A winnower.
Author : MILLET Jean-François (1814 - 1875)
Creation date : 1848
Dimensions: Height 38.5 - Width 29
Technique and other indications: Replica with variants of the 1848 Salon painting (destroyed) Oil on canvas
Storage place: Orsay Museum website
Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot website
Picture reference: 98DE6118 / RF 1874
© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot
Publication date: March 2016
The peasant was long forgotten by history. Villain of the Middle Ages, shepherd matois of Molière, shepherd of idyll in the XVIIIe century: it hardly appears in historical, artistic or literary consciousness, except in the form of fiction. Having entered the historical scene, they will be more and more present there as the society of the Restoration and the July Monarchy discovers the province - the publication of Picturesque and romantic journeys in ancient France, by Taylor and Nodier, begins in 1820 -, the people who live there and the great social questions. It was then, in 1846, that Michelet paid homage to them in The people : "The peasant is not only the most numerous part of the nation, it is the strongest, the healthiest and, balancing the physique and the morale, on the whole the best. By establishing universal suffrage in 1848, the Second Republic will make the peasant a full citizen, a man whose ballot can influence the course of history.
At the Salon of 1848 - the first of the Second Republic, freely open to all - Millet presented two paintings: The Captivity of the Jews of Babylon, a history board likely to attract orders, and A winnower, which constitutes a real beginning in the genre in which he would illustrate himself, the painting of the peasants. It shows a peasant - a winnower - who, using the van (a sort of shell-shaped basket, very flat and provided with two handles) jumps the grain to separate it from the straw. No frills: the peasant works, in his barn, in working clothes, clogs on his feet. The seriousness of the representation, the simplification of the silhouette, which widens the gesture, the broad tones of warm colors: everything surprised in this work, a masterful painting from an aesthetic point of view. Let us listen to Gautier praising him: “It is impossible to see something rougher, more fierce, more bristling, more uncultivated; well ! this mortar, this thick mess to hold back the brush, is of excellent locality, of a fine and warm tone when one takes three steps back. This winnower who lifts his van off his ragged knee, and raises in the air, in the midst of a column of golden dust, the grain of his basket, arches in the most masterful way. "But this painting painted in 1848 is also a painting from 1848. Gautier knows it well, when he quips:" M. Millet's painting has everything it takes to horrify the hairless-chinned bourgeois ", and Ledru -Rollin too, Minister of the Interior, when he buys it, immediately, 500 francs! This is how the social identity of the peasant - land worker - has never been presented in this way.
With A winnower, Millet had found his hero, the peasant, and his setting, nature. The moderns hailed this work, including the young Courbet who will remember it when he painted The Stone Breakers. We greeted the effect of reality: "We can imagine ourselves in the barn area, when the winnower shakes the grain, blows the chaff, and the atmosphere fills with fine dust through which we can see. objects confusedly. However, the simple and simplifying beauty of this winnower was to make him the very type of the winnower, just as Millet's shepherdesses, gleaners, plowmen were to be like members of a typological gallery of rural life at its peak, which explains why an almost ethnological gaze can arise on this work. We saw this winnower, just like the other peasants of Millet, as "another", whose costume, gesture, physiognomy we could study, but on whom we passed, without always knowing it, a judgment which, beyond aesthetics, ultimately only responded to his own hopes or his own fears about the peasant world.
- rural life
- Balzac (Honoré de)
- Gautier (Théophile)
- Ledru-Rollin (Alexandre)
- Courbet (Gustave)
- Sand (George)
Caroline and Richard BRETTEL Painters and the peasant in the 19th century Geneva, Skira, 1983. Georges DUBY and Armand WALLON (dir.) History of rural France , volume III "Apogee and crisis of peasant civilization, 1789-1914" Paris, Seuil, 1976.Geneviève LACAMBRE, (dir.) Millet and his time , Colloque de Cerisy, October 2000 to be published.
To cite this article
Chantal GEORGEL, "The peasant enters history"