Jane Marx knows how to read people. As New York City’s most personable and authentic tour guide, she greets strangers at notable sights and knows immediately how to enlighten and amuse them. “My favorite people to direct on tours are grandparents with grandchildren,” she states,”because, even at my age, I still possess a child’s heart, mind, and eyes. I’ve never lost my childhood enthusiasm.” While Marx seldom brings people inside museums on her excursions, preferring to stay out- doors amid what she calls”the real life of the roads,” she does remember her first visit to Paris’s Musée d’Orsay several years back.
There she encountered The Gleaners by Jean-François Millet (1814–1875). “I was immediately impressed with it, but I was not the person afterward that I’m now. Today I look at things with a maturity I did not have then. Today I can articulate why I love this painting so much.”
Marx cites the inherent poignancy of the painting’s subject matter: three girls who glean the ground for dropped bits of har- vested corn, tucking kernels in their apron pockets. She points to the mounds of fresh corn in the distance and to the farm overseer on horseback who’s wholly unconcerned with the women foraging for remnants, so unimportant are they. “The painting is about how the wealthy have everything, plenty of food, the labor for getting it accomplished by others,” Marx says. “Millet felt a fantastic compassion for people who are hungry and find life difficult. He grew up on a farm and had an intimate knowledge of the earth and also an afnity for those men and women who made a living from it.” Known for her trademark outfits — typically shades of vibrant oranges and golds — she’s also a presence on stage for a solo performer, as a jew- elry model, as the topic of a documentary flm, and as the kind of personality found on New York streets that helps defne the city. Given her chief role contributing people to its landscapes and adventures,
Marx embraces the outside, even though her milieu is a decidedly urban one. “I am a theatrical individual, and the moment I frst led a trip — on June 1, 1980 — I fell in love with the mike,” she admits.
Marx recognizes, too, Millet’s strong role in distributing a narrative. “The artist wasn’t trying to begin a revolution by painting The Gleaners, although the wealthy classes of Paris were stressed that he may do so. He brought what he knew. He wasn’t a victory in his lifetime, and he eventually returned to rural life. He was happiest when he looked to the horizon.”
Marx has viewed images of this painting so often that she has discerned its seeming dichotomies. “The girls look nicely dressed, which shows they have self-esteem. They don’t look delicate, but sturdy. After all, they’re doing back-breaking labor.” She sees a mutual esteem among them. “They see a kind of territorial separation, not getting in one another’s space. And while I can tell the girls are of diferent ages, Millet doesn’t show much of the faces, which says something about the facelessness of poverty”
To fulfill Marx on one of her tours or to watch her walk on stage is to be greeted by somebody having an uncanny vibrancy and contagious, positive energy. “Millet’s painting tells me that individuals will constantly fnd a way to nourish themselves. As my grandma used to tell me,’Never look as if you’re poor — you’ll feel much better about yourself. ”’