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Millet, L'Angelus

Jean-François Millet (French), L'Angélus, c. 1857-1859, oil on canvas, 21 x 26 (53.3 × 66.0 cm) (Musée d'Orsay, Paris) Speakers: Drs. Beth Harris and Steven Zucker For more art history videos, visit Smarthistory.org. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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  • leaf green style avatar for user JZalonis
    Do you suppose that Millet, besides recalling his childhood, was also reflecting on how difficult, stark, and barren life could be -- evidenced by the extremely rough tools used to cultivate hard, endless soil, and the fact that the couple seems to be out there alone at dusk after working all day. Perhaps he is saying that all some people have in life is hard work and the comfort of their religion.
    (5 votes)
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    • leaf green style avatar for user Alex Hallmark
      From the title, Angelus, which is a portion of a daily, communal prayer, I feel like Millet is connecting these farmers to the community. Certainly life was harder than now, but these farmers are sustained by the community, just as they sustain it. They are not alone.
      (1 vote)
  • leaf green style avatar for user Adrianne Jones
    All of this realism/nature peasant art reminds me if Levin (the moral, simple farmer who defied Russian aristocracy) in Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. It was published roughly 20 years after this painting so I feel that Tolstoy was a fan of this movement.
    (3 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Fergus Ryan
    Stephen/Beth, I am very grateful for the wonderful programme you have built on this platform. I was at Barbizon last year following some of the painters of that school. I notice in the video 'Millet' is pronounced mee-yay. But I understand that he pronounced his name with the 'L' (as in Fr. ville) -- mee-lay. So it was almost the same pronunciation as the English painter Millais except for the English short i -- mill. Is this correct?
    (2 votes)
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  • leaf blue style avatar for user Grace
    They look sad . . . But do they?
    (2 votes)
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Video transcript

(jazz music) Dr. Zucker: We're in the Musee d'Orsay and we're looking at a painting by Millet, which is called L'Angelus. It's a really famous painting in the 19th century. Dr. Harris: Right, and into the early 20th century, when very high sums were paid for it, but it's clearly not the star at the Musee d'Orsay anymore. Dr. Zucker: It's a very sentimental scene. Dr. Harris: It is, and it's a relatively small painting, showing two people who have stopped to pray. They've heard the bells of the church that we can see in the distance and they've stopped for a daily prayer called the Angelus, which commemorates the annunciation and although it may seem like a kind of religious painting, or a scene of people being religious, mostly I think, for Millet it was a memory of his childhood. Dr. Zucker: The way in which his grandmother would stop everyone when they were doing their weeding or planting so that they could do their evening prayers. Dr. Harris: Right. So the man and the woman have clearly stopped their work. The man holds his hat in his hand and looks down. The woman also looks down, holding her hands to her chest. Their tools are all around them and the sun sets in the distance. The horizon is rather high. It's about the land and about values and what's right. What's important is hard work and remembering God and our place in the universe. It's a very moralizing image. Dr. Zucker: This is an image that is cutting away at all of the artifice of the city and looking for the inherent moral values that are at the heart of what the French hold as important. As you said, monumental, in the way that they stand against the horizon line. They're backlit, the sky is quite bright. Dr. Harris: Silhouetted. Dr. Zucker: Right, and that, in a sense, makes it hard to read their faces. They become everyman. Dr. Harris: And even though this is not a painting of a religious subject, it's very 19th century in that it's a painting of people who are being religious. It always seems like it's a little bit hard in the 19th century to use Christian iconography in the usual way and instead we find religious experiences in sunsets. Dr. Zucker: Millet fed an important appetite that existed. He had found a solution locating, if not God, at least the reverence of God, here in the modern world. (jazz music)