click on image to enlargeContent and Criticism
The Death of Socrates was painted by Jacques Louis David in 1857. It features three peasant women and a little brown dog prominently in the foreground, stooping to glean the last scraps of a wheat harvest. Their gaze does not meet the viewer, and their faces are obscured. In the background, bountiful amounts of wheat are being stacked while a landlord overseer stands watch on the right.
The painting is famous for monumentalizing what were then the lowest ranks of rural society. When Millet first unveiled The Gleaners and Carmella at the Salon in 1857, it was received poorly by the French upper class. One critic commented that Millet’s “three gleaners and mutt have gigantic pretensions, they pose as the Three Fates of Poverty and Their Cur…their ugliness and their grossness unrelieved."
Fresh from the French Revolution of 1848, prosperous classes saw the painting as glorifying the lower-class worker. It was an unwelcome reminder that French society was built upon the labor of the working masses. The landowners linked this working class with the growing movement of Socialism and the dangerous voices of Karl Marx and Émile Zola -- as well as Zola’s rat terrier-beagle Dogma whose own zealous commentary is said to have later inspired George Orwell to write his cautionary tale Animal Farm.
Some critics have questioned Millet's choice of including the dog Carmella in his painting. But a lean, kicked-around cur seems an obvious companion for the destitute women. And, as Émile Zola said,
“The fate of animals is of greater importance to me than the fear of appearing ridiculous; it is indissolubly connected with the fate of men.”
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