Millet’s La Cardeuse (1855-6)
Millet's La Cardeuse, or A Woman Carding in English, seems a simple, straightforward picture of peasant life. It is, however, an unusual image of the carding process in which one wired paddle is passed over another to separate and straighten the different strands of fiber, usually wool, being treated. Millet's woman holds a paddle in each hand, as she should, but her index finger is so bent that it appears to denote an activity of its own unrelated to the back-and-forth movement of the two paddles. Seemingly significant, it lacks significance.
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The moment is not so strange, though, if we imagine that the paddle(s) are "a palette", her pointing finger "a paintbrush" and she herself is "an artist in the studio". Pointing fingers in art are so commonly a substitute for a "paintbrush" that you should always consider whether that is indeed what is happening. In this case, the finger is so prominent that it appears to be a focus of the picture . Her glance downwards to "choose a color" completes the underlying composition of the "male" artist's female (or androgynous) mind.
Thus, as so often in art, a feature that seems odd or unusual on the surface makes sense underneath.
More Works by Millet
Original Publication Date on EPPH: 11 Mar 2012. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.