Jean-François Millet, French, 1814–1875
Harvesters Resting (Ruth and Boaz)
Oil on canvas
67.3 x 119.7 cm (26 1/2 x 47 1/8 in.)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
From 1850 to 1853 Millet worked on Harvesters Resting (Ruth and Boaz), a painting he would consider his most important, and on which he worked the longest.
Ruth and Boaz was not ready for the Salon of 1852, but was submitted the following year with a different title, Harvesters Resting.
In the painting, Millet again represents a Biblical story within a contemporary scene.
The Old Testament story (Ruth 4: 1-22) involves the young Moabite woman named Ruth, who married into a Jewish tribe and, according to custom, went to live with her husband’s family. Shortly after the wedding, Ruth’s husband died, which legally enabled her to return to her own family. Ruth, however, chose to stay with her widowed mother-in-law, Naomi, and travel to Bethlehem, Naomi’s homeland.
Ruth provided food by gleaning in the field of Naomi’s wealthy relative named Boaz, who was a Jew.
While gathering food one day, Ruth attracted Boaz’s attention and was invited to join the harvesters for a meal. Soon, he heard of Ruth’s loyalty to her mother-in-law and diligence, and married her.
Boaz and Ruth had a son, Obed, who was in the line of David.
It is a story of redemption through hard work and faith
The traditional artistic depiction of this story is to represent the moment when a fieldworker introduced Boaz to Ruth. However, Millet chose instead to represent Boaz’s introduction of Ruth to the other labourers at the noontime meal. Millet showed Boaz reaching out to the hesitant Ruth who leans back slightly with her head tilted down while ushering her to join the group with his left arm
It won him a second-class medal at the Salon of 1853.
Rather than accentuating the spiritual significance of Ruth and Boaz, Millet dresses the couple and the other peasants in nineteenth-century peasant clothing.
Millet articulated contrasts, such as man and landscape, line and color, and man and woman. Oppositions create tension.
Our attention is on Ruth as Boaz introduces her. She stands to the far left looking at the ground and carrying a bundle of gleaned wheat.
Boaz stands between the two parties as the intermediary figure and looks straight ahead at the viewer. Despite the warm earth tones of this canvas, there is a tension in its depiction of social awkwardness. Millet contrasts Ruth’s timidity with the crude and clumsy reactions of the other peasants.
Millet depicts a Biblical story of a peasant meal interrupted by a newcomer
Paul de Saint-Victor found Millet's painting to be a scathing parody of the biblical theme and as such repugnant. He apparently noted the artist's compositional innovation: "these paupers don't touch me .... It disgusts me to see Ruth and Naomi surveying Boaz's field as if on stage in a theatre."