The Gleaners (Des glaneuses) is an oil painting by Jean-François Millet completed in 1857. It depicts three peasant women gleaning a field of stray grains of wheat after the harvest. The painting is famous for featuring in a sympathetic way what were then the lowest ranks of rural society; this was received poorly by the French upper classes.
The Gleaners is one of Millet’s best known works. Its imagery of bending peasant women gleaning was paraphrased frequently in works by younger artists such as Pissarro, Renoir, Seurat, and van Gogh. Art historian Robert Rosenblum says Millet’s painting introduced “imposing new presences in the repertory of mid-century art, with endless progeny in city and country. Daumier’s and Degas’s laundresses, and even more so Caillebotte’s floor-scrapers, are almost unthinkable without Millet’s epic hymn to labor.
The Gleaners provides evidence of Millet’s role as a contemporary social critic. His brutal depiction of three hunched, female paupers segregated from the laborers and the abundant crop in the distance demonstrates his attention to, if not necessarily sympathy for, the plight of the poorest members of the community around Barbizon and its larger neighbor, Chailly, as the area experienced the growing pains of French modernization. Only about thirty-five miles from the French capital (whose population doubled between 1831 and 1851), the rich, broad plain bordering the forest of Fontainebleau was among the earliest with a rail link to Paris, readily lending itself to feeding the burgeoning city. Studies tracing the transformation of rural France in the nineteenth century note that little change in peasant life occurred beyond northern France and the Paris basin until the last quarter of the century. Millet’s representation of class strife on a large-scale farm was thus uniquely modern in the 1850s.