The Timeless Art of Jean Francois Millet: Book Review on Jean Francois Millet by Estelle M. Hurll

Jean Francois MilletJean Francois Millet by Estelle M. Hurll

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was 13 years old when I first saw “The Gleaners” reprinted on a small tin plate as a complementary bonus to a carton of vanilla ice cream my mom had bought for me and my little brother. The painting had a peculiar charm that diverted me from the love of my favorite ice cream; its serene but picturesque impression of the three working women and the pastoral scene produced in me a peace of mind and a sense of comfort. Since that time, the painter of “The Gleaners, ” Jean Francois Millet, has become my favorite painters of all. So when I came upon this book by Hurll published in 1900 on Kindle Bookstand, I was already downloading it on my kindle with a kind of same delight I felt when I was 13 years old.

“The Gleaners” By Jean Francois Millet courtesy of wikipedia

Jean Francois Millet (1814-1875) was born into a hardworking and caring peasant family who had been residing in the old province of Normandy, France through the generations. The rustic, chaste beauty of the pastoral scenery and the coarse but artless and diligent village people who toiled to grow life out of land and tended flocks of livestock for living were imprinted on the senses and sensibilities of Millet. His subject matters were already indelibly marked in his nature. It is in fact, this natural beauty that became his muse and the epitome of his aesthetic beliefs. He spurned the artificial beauty of the forced setting. He believed, “The beauty is the fitting,” which links to what Saint Augustine explained in his “De Pulchra et Apte,” meaning “The Beauty and The Fitting,” in which two kinds of beauty: beauty inherent in the thing itself, and beauty by virtue of thing’s use were explained. In this regard, Millet’s tranquil beauty pertains to the latter as shown in his paintings of the pastoral life and its inhabitants.

What’s special about Millet’s paintings are distinctive features of his art. To illustrates, in “The Angulus,” “The Gleaners,” and “The Shepherdess,” the landscapes cease to be a mere setting or background in figure pictures and become “organic” parts of the compositions, focusing on the human sides in the expressiveness of the figures, and thus make both figures and the landscapes interdependent, fitting together in a perfect unity. Millet also mastered in the effects of changing the light during different hours of the day, which creates the ambience of the normal and the quiet in the paintings.

“The Shepherdess” by Jean Francois Millet courtesy of 1000

Although it was “The Gleaners” that allured me into the world of Millet’s paintings, my favorite is “The Shepherdess” completed in 1862. There is a young shepherdess knitting like she is transfixed, while her flock of sheep and her assistant black little dog are following slowly their pensive guardian. The expression of her face begets many thoughts on the sacredness of work and its worker that strikes into your heart with a sense of respectfulness, which is stretched to the far distance in the scene where men working on piles of hay and their carts to carry them over. This painting gives an impression of a suspended action captured in the eyes of the painter as if it were photographed that would proceed to move in any moment soon. Also, it renders the 3rd dimension of space with the figure of the shepherdess having a solid, tangible appearance and the space that seems so infinite, so boundless, and so eternal with the quality of surrounding light of space composition evocative of religious serenity.

This book does not contain a biography of Millet but rather serves as a reference book of his paintings to get readers acquainted with the artistic world of Millet in a short period of time. One of the reasons I chose this book is its year of publication. It was published in 1900, only 25 years after the death of Millet. Therefore, Hurll could glean information on Millet’s life from surviving friends of his, which is all the more authentic and factual, devoid of myths, legends, and fables that are so prevalent in the books on the famous who were long gone.

For these reasons, Millet is one of the fine artists whose intense love of human nature and expression thereof is the chief element of beauty. In his paintings, nothing is ignored in the landscapes as well as the figures. He was indeed a master of the arts who could use the seemingly commonplace with the feeling of sublime that gave to art its true meanings. Many years might have passed since the first time I saw “The Gleaners,” but the kind of mysterious delight of peaceful awe I felt at that time still remains with me after all those years. Millet was right: the true beauty knows no boundary of time and place.

The Classic Wisdom on Food and Drink

Food and Drink: A Book of QuotationsFood and Drink: A Book of Quotations edited by Susan L. Rattiner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Inspiration can come from anywhere, but it is most well conveyed in quotations from famous writers, thinkers, artists, and many well-known figures in the matters of positive thoughts, great advice and ideas on human existence and humanity. As Oscar Wilde said, “Quotations are serviceable substitutes for wit,” inspirational quotations stimulate our minds to fresh endeavor, gives us a new viewpoint upon our existential matters, and enable us to get a fresh hold upon ourselves and things that are necessary for our human existence, such as elegantly compiled in this charming book of quotations about food and drink.

The cover of the book showing Renoir’s beautiful painting of “A Luncheon Of The Boating Party,” imparts lightheartedness of the subject matters of the book encompassing the festivity of celebrating them both as a pleasure and a necessity. The quotations in this lovely little book, which readers can finish at one setting, comprehends all the aspects of food and drink -ranging from a necessity of our existence to an object of pleasure, from a means to measure our temperance to a touchstone of inculcating etiquette to achieve our self-respect and dignity- with insights, thoughts, and witticism from writers, thinkers, and proverbs. Included in this review are selected quotations from my personal reading of the book.

Food is sacred, a victual for the nourishment of the body and the mind. Therefore, it should be taken in a peaceful, civil manner, as to appreciate its values both physically and ethically. In this regard, Rudyard Kipling seems to disfavor the American way of fast food as we can hear him saying that Americans had a habit of “stuffing for ten minutes thrice a day.” And who says eating alone invokes a sight of pity when Charles Lamb glorifies “Oh, the pleasure of eating my dinner alone!” Aesop also agrees to the importance of eating food with peace of mind as follows: “A crust eaten in peace is better than a banquet partaken in anxiety.” Mark Twain’s aphorism of “To eat is human, to digest divine” can become a mantra to reconstitute insalubrious eating habits.

A host of the notable emphasizes on the power of coffee as a tonic to awaken our sleepy senses. Take Johann Sebastian Bach’s humorous claim that without his routine morning coffee, he is just “like a dried up piece of roast goat.” Honore De Balzac concurs with Bach metaphysically because he trusts a cup of coffee to be his Muse by confessing “Coffee falls into the stomach [and] ideas begin to move… [and] the shafts of wit start up like sharpshooter, smiles arrive, the paper is covered with ink.” Accordingly, President Teddy Roosevelt’s immortal approval of good coffee as being “good to the last drop.” still reverberates in radios and televisions.

However, there is also the other side of food when it is indulged beyond the pale, as Ludwig Von Beethoven cautions against gluttony by which man “sinks almost to the level of an animal when eating becomes his chief pleasure.” The Talmud tells us how to eat in moderation as follows: “In eating, a third of the stomach should be filled with food, a third with drink, and the rest let empty.” Desiderilis Erasmus attests to the moderate way of eating by testifying, “When I got a little money, I buy books. And if there is any left over, I buy food.”

In fact, moderate eating has been a matter of importance throughout the human history from the ancient time until now. For instance, Ovid counsel for the universal topic does not sound new to readers at all: “Stop short of your appetite; eat less than you are able.” The American Renaissance man Benjamin Franklin gives readers gives readers more detailed advice on the exercising and moderation of eating as follows: “If, after exercise, we feed sparingly, the digestion will be easy and good, the body lightsome, the temper cheerful, and all the animal functions performed agreeable. Eat to live, and not live to eat.” To cap it all, the simplest way of calorie expense is given by the Jewish proverb: “He that eats till he’s sick must fast till he’s well.”

As illustrated above, these witty and reflective quotations about food and drink (mostly about coffee) from the great minds who lived before us are universal in their appeal and still applicable to our ways of life in terms of the manners of understanding the nature and values of eating and drinking as a pleasure as well as a necessity. In this delightful, light-volume of book, readers will enjoy more quotations without a need of contextual interpretation or psychological analysis of the words of motivation, reflection, and humor. This book will make a good companion at a coffee-shop when you wait for someone, rest yourself before heading in to work, or just enjoy your solitary comfort.

How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend by Monks of New Skete

How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend: The Classic Manual for Dog OwnersHow to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend: The Classic Manual for Dog Owners by Monks of New Skete

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of my favorite saints of the Church is St. Francis of Assisi because of his humanity, compassion, sweet nature, and his love of animals with whom he is believed to communicate based upon the story of his converting the Wolf of Gubbio to a tamed animal. The story goes that while living in the city of Gubbio around 1220, St Francis volunteered to take leave and meet a ferocious wolf who devastated the country by attacking people and livestock. When St. Francis finally met the wolf, instead of punishing him for the offenses, he gently admonished the wolf to cause no more plight to the people and the livestock and promised him that he would be fed daily by the people of the city. The wolf was grateful for the compassionate promise and put his front paw on the saint’s hand as a gesture of accepting the advice. Thereafter, the Wolf of Gubbio kept his promise with the saint and became a tamed pet animal of the city.

With this evocative image in mind of the gentle saint and the tamed wolf I had once seen on a prayer card, I selected to read this book by Monks of Skete of the Eastern Orthodox Church. In this regard, I was piqued by the facts that (1) these monks were reputable German Shepherd breeders and acclaimed canine-human relationship teachers; and that (2) the monks lived with the dogs in accordance with the teachings of the Gospel manifested in their healthy relationship with the dogs. However, the monks of Skete carefully avoid religious jargon in the book lest the book should be interpreted as a promotion of their faith. Instead, their faith is carefully incorporated into the belief of fostering their ideas about dogs with a philosophical and spiritual foundation for personal change because dogs mirror who we are by responding to the way we treat them without deception.

The gem of this book is the monks’ views on salubrious human-canine relationship as appreciation of truths of the two worlds: one world of our own human prowess as a caretaker and one world of their own pristine nature as a guide to the wondrous natural world from which we have gradually distanced. While we provide them with food, shelter, and veterinarian care, dogs enable us to appreciate the beauty, the warmth, and the compassion that are deeply rooted in our humanity we often overlook or even try to suppress in the face of existential dilemma. In consideration of the aforesaid, I believe that the story of St. Francis of Assisi and the Wolf of Gubbio is not a myth but a truth.