Country Scene with Stile, c.1872
Oil on canvas, 54 x 64cm
Presented, Sir Alfred Chester Beatty, 1950
Millet is best known for his paintings of peasants at work. This peasant naturalism arose out of the 1848 Revolution in France, and against the backdrop of the rural depopulation that resulted from the Industrial Revolution. Although landscape provided settings for his figure compositions, pure landscape only became important to him late in his career, from the mid-1860s. For his landscapes he principally drew on his native Normandy, where he remained for the duration of the Franco-Prussian War.
In this idyllic view, the geese - scrambling through the stile to freedom - draw the eye from the shady foreground to the gentle sunlit scenery beyond, where the rooftops of a farmhouse nestle below the slope of the hill. Millet has playfully foreshortened the last bird as he struggles to squeeze his rounded body through the twig barrier. The unusually high horizon line, the interest in the reflected warm glow of sunset and the use of a light priming left to show through the thin paint layers, place this small work in the years after 1870.