The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

October 4, 2013

October 4, 1814

Jean-Francois Millet was born into a peasant family with a few hectares of land near the Normandy coast. He was one of nine children, and his grandmother, his father's mother, lived with them, and concerned herself with the children's care. His uncle, a pastor, also lived with them. (Edgcumb Staley, author of an eponymous book, 1903) says of Millet's parents:

M. Millet was an accomplished musician, a skilful modeller in clay, and a clever carver in wood—a man of pure life. Mme. Millet was a devoted mother, but, by the strange custom of the country, she lived, M. Sensier says, “
dans le travail ”—the slave of the family.

Staley's description  is not hard to believe. What is challenging to grasp is the ferocious love  the artist Millet made visible in his canvases, love for this class of people, this French landscape. "The Gleaners," is a well-known example of Millet's work. It shows women stooping in harvested fields to gather the dropped grain, deliberately, as an act of charity, left for them to collect. 

We have more examples we copied below. First, a woman churning butter. The cat is ingratiating itself with the possessor of such a nice treat. Pausing in the doorway a chicken with her babies considers the implications of the scene. One imagines Millet just explaining: this is what I saw. 

Turning away from that hard stone floor, we inspect a more urban scene. "Cat at the Window", (c.1857) is riveting not for the cat, not for the woman wakened, not for the convincingly intimate interior. "Cat at the Window" is wonderful for the shadow on the covered floor. The light portrayed, in a basically monochrome canvas, is staggering. 

What Millet paints is love. 

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