The Beauty of Labor

by Maggie Pawsey

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Exploring the beauty of labor, Mayela Cabrera and Linus Meldrum presented on the exhibition “Men and Women at Work in the Paintings of Jean-François Millet.”

The exhibition originally took place in Italy, and Cabrera shared her experiences presenting it again in New York. Many of Millet’s paintings center around “highlighting the toil of those who work the land,” Cabrera explained. The 19th century French painter saw toil as a part of life, not something to object to or complain about, but to find meaning in. “Life is toil,” Cabrera said of Millet’s work, “but there is also drama, a drama surrounded by splendor.”

Many of the paintings portray the sacredness of work and the beauty to be found in someone doing the task given to them. Cabrera and Meldrum both emphasized a quote from Millet, who said, “Beauty does not reside in the face, it radiates from the whole figure… It lies in the harmony between a person and his or her industry.” Nothing was more beautiful than the simplicity of a mother taking care of her child, or a farmer planting seeds. Cabrera explained that to Millet, “Work… is men obeying Christ.”

Meldrum, giving his personal reflections on Millet, said that he was touched by the “sparkle” in the paintings that convey to the viewer, “the mysterious experience of the world around you.” Speaking from his time as a manual laborer, Meldrum connected with the working subjects of the paintings, and the dignity Millet saw in them. As he showed the audience several of the artist’s pieces, Meldrum explained that the paintings constantly return to finding the “riches of labor… gratefulness to God, for the earth.”

Pictures of the paintings and research portions of the exhibition were on display panels at the Festival of Friendship. Meldrum encouraged audience members to go see Millet’s work in person, and we extend the invitation to you, dear reader, to further explore the artist’s paintings if (and when) you see anything that strikes you.