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 stalks 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.
In quite typical subject matter for Millet, this painting depicts one of the hardships of the impoverished which has, thankfully (although ones fears it has simply been replaced) disappeared from modern life. Gleaning is the act of scouring the field for stalks of crop missed in the first harvesting. One needed a licence to be allowed to do this, and only the poorest, most desperate would undertake to obtain one.
Thus the three main figures in the painting are immediately identifiable as of very low social status. It is the idea of their place in society, or lack thereof, which Millet seems to be occupied with in this piece.
The Gleaner’s was fist unveiled at the Salon of 1857. While the painting may seem fairly innocuous to modern viewers, its focus on the lives of peasants and the working classes was seen as politically threatening by the middle and upper class audience who saw it at the Salon.
While the scenes Millet depicts in The Gleaners have long since vanished from France, the ideas he presented are as eternal as he makes their actions seem. The marginalisation of the poverty stricken is an issue which remains relevant, although we can only hope that the modern middle and upper classes would react to a modern Millet in a slightly more positive way than to see it as a call to revolution.