The Angelus | Jean-François Millet | 1859
As I have introduced the author of this work in another post, I’m not going to do it on this one. I’m just going to perform an analysis of another of Millet’s paintings: The Angelus.
As we stressed earlier, Millet grew up on a farm, which motivated him to portray rural landscapes and its characters. The artist was particularly sensitive to the hardships and sufferings of rural workers and, therefore, he dignified them in his paintings.
In The Angelus, the artist shows us a couple of potato harvesters who bow with respect to pray amid a quiet rural landscape. In the foreground, we find the characters that have left their work tools to the side and, in the background, we can see the silhouette of a church. According to Millet himself, the inspiration for the work came from a memory of his childhood: when he and the members of his family worked on the fields, each time they heard the bells of the church, their grandmother made them to take a rest to pray the Angelus.
But although the painting seems only to show us a pleasant landscape, it provoked different reactions. At first, it was perceived with a political intention and they accused Millet of being a socialist because of his solidarity with the workers. Others claimed that the work had a religious meaning, but Millet did not frequent the church and neither he was interested in religion, so that could hardly have been the meaning of the work.
Years later, Salvador Dalí, after seeing the painting for the first time, will decide to become an artist. The Spanish, obsessed by its magnetism, held one theory that nobody had thought of: that the couple was burying a dead son and that, therefore, the painting showed a funeral scene. He insisted so strongly on this that the Louvre finally agreed to perform tests to the painting. After an x-ray analysis to fabric, under the final coat of paint, they found a figure that resembled a small coffin, confirming the Dalí’s theory. At the end, he was a clown, but he knew exactly what he was talking about.
Probably, Millet has considered that the topic could cause a lot of rejection and therefore decided to cover the coffin with the basket of potatoes we see between the couple.