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Monthly Masters DiscussionMonthly Masters' Discussion - November 2019 - Millet's "The Angelus"

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minniev
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Monthly Masters' Discussion - November 2019 - Millet's "The Angelus"

Post by minniev » Fri Nov 01, 2019 2:15 pm

As we approach the season of Thanksgiving, here is a familiar painting for us to respond to. You may find it interesting to look at all the reproductions of this image. Of all the paintings we’ve featured on the Monthly Masters, I’ve never seen so many different versions of reproductions. One reproduction, much lighter/brighter than the original, hung in an ornate frame in my grandmother’s house.

Introduction

Born to modestly successful French peasants, Jean Francois Millet studied art in Paris. Like many artists, he supported himself with portraits, while attempting more serious works but spent much of his life in poverty. Millet portrayed the gravity, hardship, and dignity of common agricultural laborers. After decades of struggle, he was awarded a medal at the 1867 Exposition Universelle and received the Légion d'Honneur in 1868. Millet's portrayal of peasant life deeply impressed many painters, including Vincent Van Gogh.

In this painting, the artist returns to a childhood memory: “The Angelus was painted with the thought in mind of how, when labouring long ago in the fields, my grandmother would never fail, upon hearing the bell toll, to stop us in our work in order to recite the Angelus in honour of those poor dead souls”. The painting unites a couple of peasants in prayer, as the bell ringing out the evening Angelus announces the end of the day’s work. These two figures, standing in a field of potatoes, became the very embodiment of rural devotion.

Please share your own critical response to this artwork. Below are some questions to spur your thinking, and some links to further information about the painting and the artist.

Questions To Consider
1. What do you think of the painting in terms of composition? Subject matter? Use of color? Does it tell a compelling story? Does it have emotional impact, and if so, why?
2. This is a French painting of peasants in a potato field, and has no connection to the American tradition of Thanksgiving. Yet it strikes a familiar chord for many viewers. Does it for you? Why or why not?
3. Millet himself claimed that the primary motivation for the painting was a feeling of nostalgia. How does nostalgia impact how you view and create photographic art?
4. If you read the linked information, you’ll find various tidbits of information about the scene. Some consider it primarily a scene of humble thanksgiving for food harvested from the earth. The artist changed the original title from “Prayer For The Potato Crop” to “The Angelus” when he later added the church steeple in the background. Dali insisted that the painting was a funeral scene and some of the X-ray analysis does show an object painted over that resembles a small coffin. Does it matter which is "real"? Why or why not?
5. If this were a photograph instead of a painting, some might consider the image to have been intrusive. Why are photographs of people engaged in such personal acts as prayer or mourning considered intrusive while paintings are not?

Links for Further Study
https://medium.com/@stevengambardella/t ... 5f104c7168
http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/paintin ... millet.htm
https://udayton.edu/imri/mary/a/angelus ... millet.php
https://www.wikiart.org/en/jean-francoi ... gelus-1859
https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ ... -1857-1859
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Fran%C3%A7ois_Millet
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpSVsXpNJ48
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Fran%C3%A7ois_Millet
Attachments
the-angelus lg.jpeg
fair use: https://uploads0.wikiart.org/00129/images/jean-francois-millet/the-angelus.jpg
"God gave me photography so that I could pray with my eyes" - Dewitt Jones

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Post by PietFrancke » Mon Nov 04, 2019 3:40 pm

I find the colors, the backlighting, the mood, everything about it - just amazing. I needed the back story about the bell to understand what was happening, but once that happened, I was right there with them. Without the back story I found myself confused thinking field, burial, perhaps praying for a good crop, etc.

About intrusive - yeah I know what you mean. This is likely the very reason that I am not capable of doing any type of street photography as I feel intrusive. I do not disagree that very beautiful work is not possible to capture otherwise, but I am too tender to do it. The more personal the moment, the greater the intrusion. I think the Indians had something right when they maintained that a camera is capable of capturing a soul!! An extension of the "intrusion effect" is taking photographs of kids - an activity that may be innocent, but not always viewed as such. I would argue that if humanity is involved, the more innocent and vulnerable the subject is, the greater the Intrusion Effect is.

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Post by minniev » Mon Nov 04, 2019 4:42 pm

PietFrancke wrote:
Mon Nov 04, 2019 3:40 pm
I find the colors, the backlighting, the mood, everything about it - just amazing. I needed the back story about the bell to understand what was happening, but once that happened, I was right there with them. Without the back story I found myself confused thinking field, burial, perhaps praying for a good crop, etc.

About intrusive - yeah I know what you mean. This is likely the very reason that I am not capable of doing any type of street photography as I feel intrusive. I do not disagree that very beautiful work is not possible to capture otherwise, but I am too tender to do it. The more personal the moment, the greater the intrusion. I think the Indians had something right when they maintained that a camera is capable of capturing a soul!! An extension of the "intrusion effect" is taking photographs of kids - an activity that may be innocent, but not always viewed as such. I would argue that if humanity is involved, the more innocent and vulnerable the subject is, the greater the Intrusion Effect is.

Thanks Piet, for sharing your thoughts. The colors, though muted by choice and probably by time, seem rich to me too. Rich and bright not meaning quite the same to me...

Intrusiveness is a quandary to most of us. The most powerful journalistic images in photographic history are usually very intrusive. And street images that actually convey emotion or message are often intrusive as well. This painting is intrusive, though it could have been created differently, without the artist right up in the scene with the subjects: a photo of the same scene would probably be considered intrusive. I am of both minds: I take some street shots, but decide not to take others. Intrusiveness is a factor. And I’ve taken some that I probably wouldn’t show online. Yet, the emotional message of some intrusive captures can accomplish more, sometimes, than a verbal retelling of an event that might have a chance to raise awareness about some important issue in a way that effects positive change.
"God gave me photography so that I could pray with my eyes" - Dewitt Jones

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