Jean Francois Millet – Woman Churning

Questions to arouse interest. What is this woman doing? How many know how butter is made? How many have ever tried to churn it? What else can you see in the picture? What does the c t want? What is she doing? What can you see in the back of the room? What do you sep on the bench? Of what is the floor made? Why do you think this room is cool? How is the woman dressed? What can you see in the doorway? What is the hen doing? What do you like, best about this picture?

Original Picture: Luxembourg Gallery, Paris, France.

Artist: Jean François Millet (me’le’)

Birthplace Gruchy, France. Dates: Born, 1814; died, 1875.

The story of the picture. When the artist, Jean François Millet, was a little boy he lived in the country where nearly all the people knew how to churn and make their own butter. No doubt he often watched his grandmother churn and helped her, too. He must have liked to see her pour the milk into the big pans, which she then Set away in a cool place until all the cream had come to the top. Then she would skim the cream from the milk, put it into the big wooden churn, and begin to work the churning rod up and down, up and down, until her arms grew so tired that she was glad to rest them a while and let him chunn.

At the end of the rod inside the churn are two boards fastened crosswise which work the cream into butter as the rod is moved up and down. The churn in the picture has a cover with a hole in the center for the handle, and as soon as the cream begins to thicken some of it works up with the rod to the top of the churn. We can see it in the picture. This cream must be what the cat smells and wants. If you have ever watched a cat sniffing at something it likes, you will know right away what the cat in the picture is doing. She rubs against the woman’s dress as a gentle reminder that she is there, and would very much like to have some cream. If the woman is called away for a few moments she had better take the cat with her or I fear Puss will not wait to be served.

A hen looks in at the open door, curious to know what is going on. The woman continues her churning. She must churn until the butter comes, which may be in twenty minutes or an hour, depending upon the condition of the cream. Then the butter will be salted and prepared for the table.

Many farmers now send their milk to the creameries, where it is made into butter. In these days of cream separators and machinery of all kinds, buttermaking has ceased to be the difficult task that’ it once was.

Butter has not always been used for the table as we use it now. We read that, long ago, the Romans used it only as an ointment and in medicine. The people of India used it to anoint the wounds of their elephants. The Greeks knew very little about it, and considered its odor very disagreeable. One writer (Plutarch) tells us of a visit which a great Spartan lady paid to the wife of an important official, when the one smelled so strongly of sweet ointment and the other of butter that they could not endure each other. People in those days used olive oil in place of butter and this must have satisfied their tastes as well as butter does ours.

This picture is often called “The Butter-maker.” Like all of Millet’s pictures, it is a picture of work. The woman looks strong and capable, and willing to do each task as it comes to her. Farther back in the room we can see a bench upon which are placed the great jars of milk. The stone floor and the half-darkened room suggest a cool, comfortable place in which to work on a hot summer day. The woman is dressed like all the French peasants, a handkerchief wound around her head, and wearing those wooden shoes which everybody wore, even the little children. The broom resting against the bench suggests another task when this one is finished.

The strong light in the left-hand side of the picture must come from some window near by, for that side of the woman’s face and dress, and of the churn and handle, is brightly lighted. Most of the woman’s face, however, is indistinct, for Millet did not consider the features important and usually painted his faces in shadow. It is in what the men and women are doing and how they do it that he wished to interest us.

Questions to help the pupil understand the picture. How did Millet know so much about churning butter? How did his grandmother make butter? Describe the churn. What is at the end of the rod inside the churn? What can you see on the top of this churn? What does the cat want? How does she ask for it? How long must the woman churn ? How is the butter prepared for the table? Where is most of our butter made to-day? How is it churned? How did the Romans use butter? the people of India? the Greeks? Tell about the visit of the Spartan lady. What did people use instead of butter? What is this picture sometimes called? What are the figures in most of Millet’s pictures doing? How is this woman dressed? Why did Millet paint most of her face indistinctly? What did he consider important? Where does the light come from?

To the Teacher: Have a child pose as if churning. An ordinary pail or the waste-paper basket with a broom or mop handle will do very well for the churn. If possible, have the child stand on a platform or table. The teacher’s apron may be worn, but the idea is to represent the action,—the bent head, curve of shoulders, position of arms, and general feeling of the figure. Use brush and ink for silhouette picture, or charcoal and manila paper.


What I See in This Picture:

How Butter Is Made.

The Cat and the Hen.

What I Like about This Picture.

The Man Who Painted This Picture.

The story of the artist. It was not a very long walk to the little village schoolhouse at Gruchy where lean François Millet studied. His good old grandmother had taught him his letters at home, and he could read and spell very well before he ever went to school at all. He was past six years old, and large for his age, before he started. When he arrived at the school yard the first thing he did was to fight. There was a boy in the school who had fought every boy in the class, and proved that he was the strongest. So when he saw Millet coming down the street with the older children in whose care he had been sent, this boy hurried toward him and dared him to fight. Millet himself tells how he came out victorious, and how proud the older children were. ” Millet is only six and a half,” they said, “and he has beaten a boy more than seven years old.”

But Millet was not a fighter, and fought only when he was forced to. He loved to study, and soon stood at the head of his class. When the village priest offered to teach him Latin he was only too glad to study evenings or at any other time. At home he found little to read except the Bible, which belonged to his grand-mother; even when he was very little she had told him many wonderful stories from this book. This Bible contained many pictures, and one day he surprised her by making a drawing from one of them. He drew his picture on the wall of the house, with white chalk. She was delighted, and so were his mother and father when they saw the picture. After that he drew many pictures of things in and about the house, and of his grandmother, his brothers and sisters, and his parents.

As a boy Millet had to work in the fields with his father and he had little time to spend on his drawings or his studies. In France it is the custom among the peasants to spend an hour every day in rest. But Millet, instead of sleeping during that hour, spent it in drawing the homely. scenes around him.

It was not until he was eighteen years old, however, that he drew a picture which made his parents decide he should become an artist. This picture was of an old man bent over a cane, whom Millet met as he was coming home from church. He drew this with charcoal on a stone wall, and people recognized it at once and were very much pleased. His father said he would take him to see an artist in the next village to whom he would show some of Millet’s drawings and find out whether he thought the boy could become an artist. -Millet took two drawings with him. The first represented two shepherds with their sheep, one shepherd playing a flute, the o er listening as he watched the sheep nibbling the grass near by. The second drawing Was of a man giving bread to a beggar at his door. When the artist (Mouchel) saw these drawings he was amazed, and at first would not believe Millet had drawn them himself. He said that Millet would surely be a great painter. This decided the matter, and Millet became Mouchel’s pupil.

Millet studied with the artist not quite two months when his father died, and he was obliged to return home to take his father’s place on the farm as best he could. But the people of the village thought it was too bad for him to give up his painting, and they determined to help him. So they raised a sum of money for him and sent him back to the artist to study, and finally to the great city of Paris, France.

At Paris he became the pupil of a fashionable painter of that day. When he entered the class, a green peasant boy, the other pupils laughed at him, but when they saw his work they admired it very much. However, they did not care for the people he painted, for he always pictured the poor French. peasants whom he knew and loved best. The very paintings we prize so highly now were not appreciated then, and it was not easy for Millet to sell them. He was very poor until the last ten years of his life. Then people began to give him the honor and praise that he so much deserved.

Then too with his increasing fame came better financial conditions. In 1867 he received a medal and the blue ribbon of the Legion of Honor. Soon afterward the death of a dear artist friend made Millet fall ill. He never re-covered his health and died a few years later.

Questions about the artist. Who painted this picture? How old was he when he started to school? Tell about his first day at school. How did he get long at school? What did he study with the priest? What did he read at home? How did e surprise his grandmother? Where did he draw his picture? What else did he draw? Of (whom did he draw a picture as he was coming home from church? Why must it have look O like the man? Where did Millet’s father take him? What two drawings did they take with them? What did the artist think about these (drawings? What did he say about Millet? Why did Millet return home? What did his neighbors do for him? Who laughed at him in the city? How did they feel when they saw what he could do? Why could he not sell all his pictures? When were they appreciated? Why are they so valuable now?