Tag Archives: John Constable

Jean-Francois Millet, French Realist Painter of Ordinary People

Jean-Francoise Millet spent his youth doing the ordinary work of farming—plowing, sowing, cutting hay, and harvesting. Even when he later studied art and moved to Paris, he never forgot his roots, eventually leaving Paris to settle his family in a rural area. There Millet painted scenes of rural life, such as

The Angelus, by Jean-Francois Millet, Musee D’Orsay, public doma

The Angelus and The Sower, which are beloved paintings today.

The sower by Jean Francois Millet, public domain

 

 

 

 

 

 

The painting we’re going to look at isn’t as well-known as those, but I think you’ll love it and its spiritual emphasis, too!

The post includes:

  • Getting to Know Jean-Francois Millet and the Realist art movement
  • Looking at The Sheepfold, Moonlight, (includes helpful vocabulary)
  • Choosing Activities to Help You and Your Children Further Explore the Painting
  • Going Deeper to Discover What God Can Teach Us Through this Painting

Getting to Know Jean-Francois Millet, Realist painter

Jean Francois Millet, photo by Nadir, public domain

Born in 1814, the oldest son of a peasant family in rural Normandy, France, Millet spent his youth working on the family farm. When he was 19, he began studying with area artists, and in 1837 moved to Paris for further study.

Millet and several artist friends became more interested in painting landscapes and everyday life than portraits and historical events. They found inspiration in the landscapes of 17th century Dutch artists, such as Jacob van Ruisdael,

View of Naarden by Jacob van Ruisdael, public domain

and the contemporary landscapes of English artist, John Constable

The Hay Wain by John Constable, public domain

(for more about John Constable, see this first of a series of my posts about him). https://kathythepicturelady.wordpress.com/2019/09/

These young French artists, working around the mid 1800s, became known as Realists, because they didn’t idealize the people and places they painted. The group is also sometimes called the Barbizon School, because many painted near Barbizon, a rural village on the edge of the Forest of Fontainebleau, 30 miles southeast of Paris. (An artistic school isn’t a building, but a group of artists who often know each other, may paint together, and have similar artistic goals and/or styles)

The Realists were among the first to paint outside (en plein air). They loved nature and tried to observe and paint it accurately. Their work made landscapes an acceptable subject for art in France, inspiring and paving the way for the Impressionists at the end of the century. They also influenced later artists of America’s Hudson River School.

Autumn on the Hudson, Jasper Cropsey, public domain

(Look here for my first post in a series about one Hudson River School artist) https://kathythepicturelady.wordpress.com/2020/09/18/painting-the-light/

Many Realist artists painted near Barbizon just in the summer. But following violence in Paris in the 1840s and an outbreak of cholera, Millet moved his family to Barbizon, where he spent the rest of his life.

In his much-loved paintings, The Sower and The Angelus, we see how Millet understood the importance of farming and gave farm workers dignity and a heroic quality, once only used for great historical figures. Millet had a huge influence on the work of Vincent van Gogh.

Millet”s The Sower, 1850

The sower by Jean Francois Millet, public domain

Van Gogh’s Sower at Sunset, 1888

Sower at Sunset by Vincent van Gogh, public domain

 

Looking at The Sheepfold, Moonlight by Jean-Francois Millet

The Sheepfold, Moonlight by Jean-Francois Millet, public domain

In this nocturnal, scene we see a shepherd directing his sheep into a pen on a wide plain near the village of Barbizon. Our vantage point is up close, just in front of the sheep. Millet typically paints his main characters up close and large.

Go here to the painting at the Walters Art Museum to look at an enlarged picture. https://art.thewalters.org/detail/24760/the-sheepfold-moonlight-2/

Beyond the shepherd and sheep in the foreground, the plain stretches away to the horizon. There’s no middle ground, and a good half of this painting is sky. Showing so much sky emphasizes the large plain and highlights the brilliant moon and its light effects. Notice that the sky is blue, not black as it might be later in the night.

It’s the end of the day. Twilight deepens, the moon rises over the plain, and the shepherd brings his flock home for the night. Much of the painting is in shadow, but see how the moonlight shines on the underside of the clouds and the backs of the sheep.

Also notice how the shepherd and his staff are silhouetted against the sky as he holds the gate open for the sheep to enter. Two dogs are next to him to help funnel the sheep into the pen.

Helpful Vocabulary

  • Realist—true to what is seen
  • Nocturnal—night time scene
  • Vantage point—where the viewer would be standing in the painting
  • Foreground—front of a painting
  • Middle ground—the middle of a painting
  • Horizon—where the land or sea and the sky meet
  • Silhouette—when a figure shows in dark outline against a lighter background

Choosing Activities to Help You and Your Children Further Explore the Painting

Before doing any other activities, ask children to tell what’s going on in the painting and what tells them that.

  1. This is a great painting to talk about mood and how an artist creates that.
  2. What is the mood of this painting? Do all those shadows make it mysterious? A little scary? Are there colors, shapes, lines, etc. that make you think that?
  3. If this were the opening scene of a movie, what do you think might happen next?
  4. What music might you hear during this opening scene?

You may also enhance children’s observational and verbal skills, as well as their imaginations with the following questions:

  1. What things tell you that the sheep are entering the pen, not leaving?
  2. How does a shepherd’s dogs help him?
  3. Why would the shepherd keep the sheep in a pen for the night?
  4. If we were in the painting, where would we be standing?
  5. What sounds might we hear?
  6. What colors do you see in the sky?
  7. What things are in shadow?
  8. Which things are lit by moonlight?
  9. Do the sheep look tired?

Going Deeper to Discover What God Can Teach Us through the Painting

This painting can help you explore with children an important way the Bible often talks about the relationship between God and us, and his loving and wise care of us. Psalm 23 says,” the Lord is my Shepherd,” and Psalm 100 says, “we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.”

Now let’s look again at The Sheepfold, Moonlight painting. It’s the end of a long day. The sheep look tired, and the sky is dark. Clouds may tell of a coming storm. Thick shadows surround the sheep pen.

The Sheepfold, Moonlight by Jean-Francois Millet, public domain

  1. Do you think the sheep would be afraid of those shadows?
  2. What dangers may lurk in the nighttime shadows surrounding the sheep? (wolves, thieves, rocky cliffs, scary storms with thunder and lightning could scatter the sheep and hurt them)
  3. Do you sometimes get frightened at night?
  4. What are some things that make you afraid?

Now look at who is silhouetted against the sky. It’s the shepherd with his staff. In Psalm 23:4 David says, “I will fear no evil for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

The shepherd is taking care of his sheep. He has led them home for the night and is guiding them into the safety of a pen that will hug around them—it’s called a sheepfold.

See how the shepherd is holding the gate open for the sheep to go in. He opens the gate, so the sheep can enter the safety of the pen. In John 10 Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate of the sheep . . . I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved” (John 10:8,9).

During the night, the shepherd will sleep across the gateway to protect his sheep from danger, and will even give his life for his sheep. “The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

We are like those sheep—sometimes we become frightened of dangers that could hurt us. But Jesus is our Good Shepherd. He loves us and he gave his life, so we could become part of his flock. We can rest, knowing he will watch over us and never leave us, keeping us safe in his very own sheepfold.

Let’s thank Jesus for being our loving and wise Good Shepherd!

Prayer  Thank you, Jesus, that when we run to you, you will guide us and open the gate for us to enter your sheepfold. There we will be part of your flock and be safe forever. In your name, we pray. Amen.

(All verses are from the New International Version of the Bible)

Molly and I hope you’ll come back for our next post of a cute art project about sheep!

But Before You Go:

If you’d like more activity ideas for art, history, and nature, curriculum connections, and links to more resources, be sure to click the button to sign up for my newsletter., and receive a free guide to making art museum visits a fun masterpiece for your whole family!

Visit my all-new website to get free downloadable puzzles, how-to-draw pages and coloring pages for kids and see an updated list of my hands-on workshops, chapels, and presentations for all ages. http://www.kathy-oneill.com/

 

 

How to Look at Landscapes with Your Children

Just a reminder from Molly and me: a new art project for children (the next one in the drawing series) coming on Friday! She’s taking a snooze while she waits, but she suggests

 you enjoy this earlier post on The Hay Wain: Tricks Artists Use to Catch and Hold Your Attention.

Using The Hay Wain, a beautiful landscape painting, this post will show you tricks artists use to catch your attention and then move your eyes around to take in all the details—often without you even realizing it!

Here is a link to the National Gallery page where you can look at and enlarge different sections of The Hay Wain so you can get an idea of how this very large painting has so many spaces and things to explore.

First–getting your attention:  Most paintings have something the artist wants you to notice first. It may be the face of the sitter in a portrait or a particular flower or object in a still life. Landscape artists may choose to focus on a tree or a sunset, or haystacks as Monet did in his haystack series. Whatever it is, it’s called the focal point.

In The Hay Wain Constable has used red to focus your attention on his focal point–the wagon and horses. The horses’ harnesses have bright red fringe. Artists use red for this purpose so often, that you can often just look for that color to find the focal point of many paintings.

Artists also use other things to call attention to the focal point.

  • A central position
  • Larger size
  • Up close
  • The title of the painting!!
  • People in a painting may all look toward or even point to the focus
  • Bright colors or pattern in addition to, or instead of, red
  • Light and shadow contrasts

Activity:  Which of the above techniques did Constable use in addition to red to facus your attention on the wagon and horses?

Second, once you’ve noticed the focal point, artists use more tricks to move your attention on to other parts of their work.

The Hay Wain by John Constable, public domain

1. Related or similar colors throughout a painting draw your eyes onward

Activity: What object in The Hay Wain has colors related to red?  Yes, the roofs of the cottage, which may have actually caught your attention first. But it’s kind of a back and forth thing between the roofs and the wagon and horses, so your attention goes back and forth, too.

2. Similar shapes can move your eyes around also

Activity: Notice how the large tree shapes lead your eyes back to the smaller trees in the background. They seem to march from large trees on the left, to medium ones in the middle, to small ones in the background on the right, but all have  a similar shape, so they create movement around the painting.

3. Lines can move your eyes around, and stop you from wandering off the canvas.

Activity: Follow the diagonal line of the wagon and horses as it points toward the left. Do you see how that could take your attention right out of the painting? Now trace with your eyes the curve of the pond and see how Constable has used the curve to move your attention back to the center. Try not to follow it. You can’t!!

4. Speaking of that curve. Landscape artists often use a curving path, road, or stream to lead your attention back into their painting. Here Molly and I are following a path, and you can see how your eye follows it with us.

Activity: In the Hay Wain notice how the millpond narrows and curves back into the scene. Some of it curves around the house, but the lighter, more noticeable, section curves toward the far field. It’s as if you could walk along that path right into the painting!

5. Light and shadow also move our attention around. The sunlit parts of the pond move our eyes to the light on the house and back to the sunlit field.

                         Though this series of posts about The Hay Wain painting hasn’t had a hands-on art project, here are some more Molly-recommended activities to enjoy with your children!

(Some are specific to landscapes, while others can be used with many subjects)

1. Strap on your backpack and take an imaginary walk or boat ride into the painting. What would you need to wear or take for the weather?

2. While on your walk or boat ride, tell what you would see, smell, hear, feel, and if appropriate–taste!!    (warm sun, bees buzzing, scratchy hay, cool water, soft grass, etc.)

3. How does the painting make you feel–happy, sad, peaceful, excited, afraid, etc?

4. What kind of colors does the painting have? warm or cool?  calm and peaceful or electric and exciting?

5. Have children go on a scavenger hunt to find things in the painting: colors, textures, certain people or objects or other creatures. Find a curvy, wavy, straight, or zigzag line. Find circles, rectangles, triangles, etc. (these don’t have to be mathematically perfect shapes. This is ART!!)

6. Look at the lady getting water, the dog, or the person in the bushes and make up a story about them.  Do any of them live in the house? Are there any children, and if so, what sort of jobs would they have?

7. Tell a story about the duck family.

8. What animals will the hay feed over the winter?

9. What are some other ways people in the painting are caring for their animals?

10. What are some things we see in this painting that show how God cares for our daily needs?

I hope you have fun exploring The Hay Wain yourself and with your children! Let me know which activity you or your children especially enjoyed.

For all those out there who love horses as I do, I’ve written a devotion for this painting, called Devotion for The Hay Wain posted on 10/25/19 that centers on those three patient and powerful black horses!

Devotion for The Hay Wain

The bright red on the harnesses draws your attention right to the hay wain  and the three horses pulling it. It’s the focal point of the painting, and it’s where I’m focusing these devotional thoughts, too.

But first, don’t miss the two related study suggestions especially for homeschoolers at the end of this post. One is a literature study and the other is a Christian history study. Both are related to the time period of this painting and would be good to introduce or expand on a study of the Industrial Revolution.

Now on to The Hay Wain and the three powerful, black horses that made it possible to quickly bring in more hay than men and women on their own could have done.

They were likely descended from Friesians, black horses that originated long ago in Friesland, a northern area of what is today the Netherlands.

  • As early as AD 122 records show that the Romans brought Friesians and their owners to Britain to help build Hadrian’s Wall.
  • In Medieval times Friesian mercenaries rode their large, powerful horses into battles in Britain and elsewhere.
  • In the 1500s more Friesian horses came to the eastern parts of England (where Constable’s family later lived and farmed) with Dutch engineers to help drain the marshes.
  • In the 1800s Friesians were sought after as coach horses, and were often used to pull hearses for funerals.

Because of this, the all-round Friesian horse has contributed to several large and small horse breeds originating in England, including the largest, the Shire horse.

At the time of this painting, although the Industrial Revolution was under way, Friesians and other horses were still indispensable.

Steam may have powered the engines for railroads and machinery in factories, but the coal to produce steam had to be mined. In those mines thousands of small ponies, called pit ponies lived underground and pulled coal carts through the tunnels.

Above ground, railway companies in Great Britain still owned thousands of draft horses to make local deliveries and even shunt engines and cars around in railway yards. In London, over 11,000 horse-drawn cabs took people to work, to theaters, and to railway stations.

Wherever there were canals horses pulled barges and small boats. Here’s another of Constable’s large landscapes that shows a horse leaping a barrier as it pulls a boat along a canal near where Constable lived.

The Leaping Horse, John Constable, wikimedia

The 3-foot barriers kept cattle from straying, so canal horses had to be strong and well-trained to not only pull a barge, but leap the barriers along the way.

Even as more machines were developed to speed up planting and harvesting, large teams of horses had to pull the machines.

Of course people also rode horses everywhere, and livery stables existed for people to rent a horse the way today we rent a car.

Little wonder that we still use the term “horsepower” to determine how much power an engine can produce.

James Watt, whose steam engine helped power the Industrial Revolution, came up with the term “horsepower” to describe how much power it took to raise 550 pounds 1 foot in 1 second. He based the measurement on the work of ponies in mines.

For thousands of years the power of horses has carried armies into battle, allowed people to hunt large game such as bison, taken people to settle new areas, and once there, pulled plows to grow food and wagons to get products to markets.

Yet in Psalm147, we see that God warns us not to put our hope in even that great power.

      His [God’s] pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,

             Nor is His delight in the legs of a man;

       The Lord delights in those who fear Him,

              Who put their hope in His unfailing love. Ps. 147:10-11.

As we put our hope in God’s love, the Lord can use even our weaknesses for His glory!

As Paul says, “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Cor.12:9.

Have you experienced a time when God used your weaknesses for His glory?

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Ideas for Homeschoolers studying the Industrial Revolution:

1. Literature study: Read Black Beauty. Anna Sewell wrote the story in the 1800s about a gentle, black horse that worked in many of the capacities I’ve written about. When horses filled city streets and toiled in mines, they were often overworked and abused. Sewell wanted to encourage people to treat horses more humanely, and the book did succeed in bringing better treatment to horses. Today we read it mainly because it’s such a good story, but it can still spark a discussion about kind treatment of all animals or introduce a study of that important historical period.

2. Christian history study: Learn how the revivals of the Wesleys and George Whitefield helped the many people who had left rural life for jobs in factories. Children and adults worked long hours in unsafe conditions and went home to unsanitary slums. But many Christians who came to faith in the Wesleyan revivals worked to better the conditions of poor working people. The Sunday school movement began because working children only had Sundays off.  Others worked to end child labor in mines or start orphanages. They worked to improve hospital and prison conditions.