A New Reading of a Famous Picture

A New Reading of a Famous Picture. From English Society. Sketched by George du Maurier. Click on image to enlarge it.

“Oh, look, grandpapa! Poor things . . . they’re burying the baby!”

The young boy and his grandfather are looking at Jean-François Millet’s L'Angélus [The Angelus] (1857-59), which is now in the Musée d'Orsay, Paris. The museum website explains that “A man and a woman are reciting the Angelus, a prayer which commemorates the annunciation made to Mary by the angel Gabriel. They have stopped digging potatoes and all the tools used for this task – the potato fork, the basket, the sacks and the wheelbarrow – are strewn around them. In 1865, Millet said: ‘The idea for The Angelus came to me because I remembered that my grandmother, hearing the church bell ringing while we were working in the fields, always made us stop work to say the Angelus prayer for the poor departed’. So it was a childhood memory which was behind the painting and not the desire to glorify some religious feeling.” Since there is no baby in the picture, the child has obviously misread the potatoes as a child in the basket, but he seems to have discerned the main point or feeling of Millet’s painting. Is the joke therefore on du Maurier?

du Maurier’s Cartoons about Children

Looking at and Interpreting Works of Art

Scanned image and text by George P. Landow [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


English Society. Sketched by George du Maurier. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1897.

Created 1 July 2001

Last modified 30 April 2020