The Cover Section Editor: M. Therese Southgate,
MD, Senior Contributing Editor.
The Revolution that swept Europe in 1848 affected Jean-François
Millet (1814-1875) profoundly. From a neoclassically trained painter of religious
and mythological subjects (and, to support himself and his family, portraits),
he turned to the radical new style of Realism. The heroic historical figure
was abandoned for the image of the "common man," the contemporary French peasant,
the unsung tiller of the French soil. Over the next decade and a half he would
make the peasant the hero in what have become some of his most familiar—and,
in America—his most loved works: The Winnower, The Sowers, The Gleaners, The Angelus, Man With a Hoe (JAMA
cover, July 18, 1990). Falling about midway in this period is Peasant Spreading Manure (cover), which
Millet painted when he was in his early 40s. He knew whereof he spoke. He
was himself a "man of the soil," having been born into a peasant family in
Normandy, albeit one that was prosperous. His education included the Latin
classics, and he remained devoted to literature for the rest of his life.
He was able to quote from not only Virgil and the French classics, but from
Shakespeare, Milton, and Dante as well.
Southgate MT. Peasant Spreading Manure. JAMA. 2003;289(5):523. doi:10.1001/jama.289.5.523