From the Industrial Revolution to World War I, C. 1850–1914

Late Nineteenth-Century Painting

What is The Gleaners?

The Gleaners (1857) is a painting by Jean-Francois Millet (1814–1875), a member of the Barbizon School, which depicts French laborers on a monumental scale and exemplifies the transition between Romanticism and Realism. The Gleaners is a large oil painting with soft, diffused brushstrokes and a sense of nostalgia for the countryside during the time of the Industrial Revolution. The term “gleaner” refers to rural people who gathered any produced discarded by the farm workers after the harvest— extremely physically demanding work that usually resulted in very little of value. The faces of the peasant women are obscured, rendering the peasants as symbols rather than individuals. The painting elicits sympathy for the rural poor through the soft light and the monumentality of the figures. It also juxtaposes the poor with the wealthy—as more prosperous farm workers with expensive equipment can be seen efficiently harvesting in the background. After seeing the work, some critics believed Millet harbored sympathies for the recent revolutions of 1848, eliciting controversy despite Millet’s denials.


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