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Video transcript

(piano music) Man" We're looking at a Jean-Francois Millet painting The Gleaners from 1857. Now this is a painting that hangs in the Musee d'Orsay. It's an oddly soft painting. Woman: The colors are muted. The edges are soft of the figures. Man: And the brush is not tight, right? There's no hard lines. Woman: That's true. Strangely or perhaps ironically the subject that is depicted is very harsh. These three women are gleaners, which means that they are going out into the field after the harvest and basically picking up the leftovers of corn in this case that have fallen. They're basically rural beggers and this is a very old tradition. Man: So you can see that actually very clearly. You can see the great grain stacks in the distance and you can see a grain [?] or wagon really piled high. You can see the main, I almost want to say army of harvesters in the distance all bent over in this back-breaking work. You can see the large bundles of grain that have been gathered. But then in the foreground at some real distance from the main enterprise, you see these three women working in a kind of solitary way and one imagines their destitution. They are trying to feed their families. You can see the small bundles to their right that they have gathered as they clutch what they have found. Woman: Yeah, very, very small compared to the enormous harvest that has been yielded in the background. Man: You can also really make out the hierarchy. It's interesting because these women are large and substantial and in the foreground and clearly in that sense important monumentally even. But in a diminished scale, because they're far away, we have again the main enterprise and we have the people working, but then we have what seems to be a supervisor on horseback overseeing that operation, not even paying attention to these women, who are doing something so unimportant that it doesn't even bear his notice. Woman: When this painting was shown in the salon, it was criticized because it made people in the city in Paris who were at the salon have a sense of fearfulness of what would happen if people like this in these circumstances were radicalized and mobilized as they had been in the Revolution of 1848. Was there the potential for another revolution? What about the poverty and the countryside? There was something about these women that although we may see them as terribly sad and downtrodden, there was something about them in 1857 that was frightening to the Parisian populous. Man: You know, perhaps because of that, Millet has done something interesting. He has rendered these women doing this back-breaking labor right before us, but they're not in rags. They are seemingly well-fed and strong. And so there is something of a mixed message here. Woman: That goes back to the softness with which they're represented. There is a way that they are all below the horzion line. They are embraced by the landscape. There is a rhyming between the rounded forms of their backs. There is something lovely and beautiful about the composition at the very same time that we have this image of back-breaking labor. So perhaps Millet is giving us this very difficult image, but it's not as difficult as it could have been. Man: So he is softening the blow for us. He's making this more palatable to his audience. (piano music)