The Gleaner, 1900. Oil on canvas, 43 x 39 in
Denver Art Museum Collections, Gift of the Lawrence C. Phipps Foundation
Gleaning is the back-breaking task of gathering leftover crops from farmers’ fields. The woman hunched in the background works desperately for scraps of grain, while the woman in the foreground takes a moment to confront the viewer with a hardened stare. Her gaze and her posture are aggressive. Her red headpiece resembles a cap, which in artistic representations signifies freedom and the pursuit of liberty. As with Jean-Francois Millet’s The Gleaners, a defining image of peasant social realism painted in 1857, Breton’s intent was to monumentalize those who represented the lowest ranks of rural society.
Breton was raised in the French countryside in a town called Courrières . After completing his formal art training in 1847 in Paris he moved back to his hometown in 1848 to care for his ailing father. His return inspired him to take a realist approach that depicted “peasant life and traditions, the working of the land and the glorification of those who worked it.”
For information about the University of Denver’s “Changing Landscapes” exhibition click here.