Buy Art Prints Now
* As an Amazon Associate, and partner with Google Adsense and Ezoic, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Jean-François Millet was a French artist well known for the paintings he produced of peasant farmers. Best known for his oils, Millet is noted for his etchings, Conte crayon drawings and pastels, too. He was one of the people who founded the Barbizon school in the countryside of France. As such, Millet can be classified as part of the art movement known as Realism. Towards the end of Millet's career, he was focusing more on painting pure landscapes.
Life and work
Miller's father was Jean-Louis-Nicolas and his mother was Aimée-Henriette-Adélaïde Henry Millet. His parents were members of the Gruchy's farming community. Under the guidance of 2 village priest, he acquired a knowledge of modern authors and Latin. But soon Millet, who was the eldest son, had to help his parents with the farm work. As a result, he was familiar to all the farmer's work, including sowing, ploughing, spreading manure, winnowing, threshing, binding the sheaves, making hay and wowing. All these motifs returned in his later work.
In 1833, he was sent by his father to study at Cherbourg with Bon Du Mouchel, a portrait painter. By 1835, Millet was studying with French historical painter and Baron Gros' pupil Théophile Langlois de Chèvreville in Cherbourg. In 1837, millet moved to Paris after receiving a stipend from Langlois and others. Here, Millet studied with Paul Delaroch at the influential art school École des Beaux-Arts. Millet's scholarship was terminated in 1839; the same year, the jury of Paris Salon rejected his first submission.
In 1840, Millet's portrait painting was accepted at the Paris Salon. He then went back to Cherbourg to start a career as a professional portrait painter. However, Millet married Pauline-Virginie Ono in 1841, and the couple moved to Paris, France. After rejection at the 1843 Salon and his wife's death in April 1844 due to tuberculosis, Millet went back to Cherbourg. In 1845, he moved to the urban French commune and city Le Havre with a woman called Catherine Lemaire. In 1853, the two got married in a civil ceremony and went on to have 9 children. While in Le Havre, Millet painted small genre pieces and portraits for several months then returned to Paris. In the mid-1840s - while he was still in Paris - he befriended Théodore Rousseau, Charles Jacque, Narcisse Diaz and Constant Troyon, artists, who like him, would become linked to the Barbizon school. He also befriended French painter and printmaker Honoré-Victorin Daumier, whose draftsmanship influenced Miller's subsequent use of peasant subjects and French art historian Alfred Sensier, who was his lifelong supporter.
Miller's first Salon success was in 1847. In 1848, the government purchased his Winnower. At that time, his most ambitious work was Babylonian Captivity, which he unveiled at the 1848 Salon; however, it was scorned by the public and critics. Shortly thereafter, the painting disappeared, which resulted in historians believing that Millet decided to destroy the painting. In 1984, some scientists at the Boston-based Museum of Fine Arts x-rayed The Young Shepherdess by Millet to look for minor changes. They discovered it was painted over Captivity. It's believed that the painter reused the canvas during the Franco-German War, which led to a shortage of materials.
In 1849, the painter produced Harvesters, which was commissioned by the state. In June of the same year, Millet moved to Barbizon with his family. In 1850, he entered into an agreement with Alfred, who provided him with money and materials in return for paintings and drawings. Millet was also free to sell his work to other buyers. At the Salon of 1850, Miller exhibited the painting Haymakers and The Sower, the first major masterpiece by the artist as well as the earliest of the famous and iconic trio of works that included The Angelus and The Gleaners.
From 1850-1853, he worked on Harvesters Resting, a painting that Millet worked on the longest and would consider it as his most important work. Conceived to rival his two heroes Poussin and Michelangelo, this painting was also the one that marked Millet's transition from depicting symbolic imagery of the life of peasants to the depiction of contemporary social conditions. Harvesters Resting was the only painting that Millet ever dated, and the first work that garnered him official recognition at the 1853 salon, where he was awarded a second-class medal. In the mid-1850s, he executed several etchings of peasant subjects, including Woman Carding Wool and Man with a Wheelbarrow.
Despite the mixed review that the paintings Miller exhibited at the Paris Salon, his reputation and success continued growing through the 1860s. Millet was hired to produce 25 paintings for three years in early 1860. In 1865, Emile Gavet started commissioning Millet's pastels; this collection eventually included 90 paintings. The International Exposition of 1867 hosted a major exhibition of Millet's work. The exhibited works included Potato Planters, Angelus and the Gleaners. In 1868, Frédéric Hartmann commissioned the painting Four Seasons, leading to Millet being named the Legion of Honour, the highest order of merit for civil merits in France, established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802.
In 1870, he was appointed as a jury of the Salon. Later that year, Millet, Lemaire and their children fled the Franco-German War. They moved to Cherbourg and later to Gréville. In 1871, he returned to Barbizon with his family. The last years of Miller were marked by increased official recognition and financial success, but he couldn't fulfil government commissions as a result of failing health. Millet married Lemaire in a religious ceremony on 3 January 1875 and died on 20th of the same month.
Millet's late landscapes served as important points of reference (structural and symbolic content) to the coast of Normandy paintings that Claude Monet produced. Millet's painting The Angelus, an oil painting executed between 1857 and 1859, was reproduced in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Salvador Dalí, a Spanish Surrealist artist
, was fascinated by this painting that he decided to write an analysis of it. Instead of seeing the painting as a composition of spiritual peace, Salvador believed that the work had messages of repressed sexual aggression. He also suggested that the two figures in the painting were praying over their dead child, not to the Angelus. An X-ray of the canvas was done to confirm Salvador's suspicions. The painting has a painted-over geometric, coffin-like shape. However, it's not clear whether the shape is a coffin or Miller decided to change his mind about the meaning of the Angelus. Lastly, the artist was an influential source of inspiration for Dutch post-impressionist painter Vincent Willem van Gogh, especially during his early period.