He worked first in a book store, then as a lay preacher, spent his spare time translating the Bible, prepared to enter the ministry, failed his language exams and took up art. Van Gogh came from a peasant background and worked among poor country labourers, first preaching and then recording their arduous life in his early paintings.
One of the things that Dr. Waltke mentioned this week is how he always reads a commentary during his own devotional time. He likes to read with understanding and engage the intellect.
There are many different ways of enriching one’s understanding of the scriptures. For me, it came this weekend with going to an art exhibit and learning about the role of Millet’s art in Van Gogh’s work.
Millet had painted many studies of peasants working in the fields. Some of these are direct portrayals of the story of Ruth and Boaz. Others are contemporary scenes. Van Gogh wished to follow Millet in giving value to the harsh life of the peasant and as a preacher he was familiar with the Bible stories.
Here is a description of Van Gogh’s Gleaner, taken to be a study of Ruth, in contrast to Millet’s Gleaners,
- Jean-Francois Millet, another painter of around van Gogh’s era also created works where peasants play a central role. His painting, The Gleaners, shows three women gleaning, or “gathering the ears of wheat left over after reaping,” (Ives 116) on what appears to be a sunny day.
Millet’s peasants do seem to be doing back-breaking work, but a glance at van Gogh’s sketch, Peasant Woman Gleaning makes Millet’s women, painted with a warm tone, look as if their work really is not so harsh. Van Gogh creates a hard texture with his pencil and makes the woman look rough and less gentile than Millet does.
- Again, the awkwardness of the pose of van Gogh’s woman contributes to the harsh look of the sketch, His gleaner appears as if someone hit a pause button on her life, and she is stuck in that position. This is in contrast to Millet’s figures, which are smoothly painted, and seem to be more anatomically correct than van Gogh’s; thus, they look more comfortable with the work they are doing, both physically and emotionally.
It makes Ruth’s work look like the backbreaking work that it really was. There are many sympathetic paintings of farmers by both Millet and Van Gogh.
- Millet’s modest background had a great influence on the subject matter of his works. “I was born as a peasant and shall die as a peasant”, Millet once said (although, after achieving success, Millet did learn to appreciate a more comfortable life). Millet’s works are a nostalgic tribute to farmers and labourers. He felt great compassion for people who worked the soil with their own hands–it is here that Van Gogh and Millet connect.
Van Gogh always identified with the peasant class and, one could argue that he was at his most happy and fulfilled when he shared in their experience. His time in the Borinage seemed to have infused him with an even greater respect for those who toiled in order to maintain their meagre existence. Van Gogh, like Millet, viewed farmers and labourers as truly noble people and this is clearly reflected in his works. Vincent