Jean-François Millet


The Sower. Jean-François Millet. 1850. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.Jean-François Millet (October 4, 1814 – January 20, 1875) was a painter and one of the founders of the Barbizon school in rural France. He is noted for his scenes of peasant farmers.

Born in the village of Gruchy, in La Hague in Normandy, Millet moved to Paris in 1838. He received his academic schooling with Paul Dumouchel, and with Jérome Langlois in Cherbourg. After 1840 he turned away from the official painting style and came under the influence of Honoré Daumier. In 1849 he withdrew to Barbizon to apply himself to painting many, often poetic, peasant scenes.

The Gleaners

The most famous of Millet's paintings was The Gleaners (1848), depicting the poorest of peasant women stooping in the fields to glean the leftovers from the harvested field, is a powerful and timeless statement about the working class. (The Gleaners is on display in Paris's Musée d'Orsay).

Picking up what was left of the harvest was regarded as one of the lowest jobs in society. However, Millet heroically depicted the women in a way where they take up the focus of the picture. Previously, servants may have been depicted in paintings, but usually in the background, with a noble or king being the main focus. The light shines off the front two women's shoulders as they carry out their work. Behind them, the field stretches into the distance bathed in golden light, with a wide, magnificent sky. The forms of the three figures themselves, almost silhouetted against the lighter field, show balance and harmony. By turning this picture of three women working in the field into an image which would usually have been reserved for the nobility, Millet is saying something about the way that any labour is noble and beautiful.

Millet's Angelus was widely reproduced in prints in the 19th century. Fascinated with his work, Salvador Dalí wrote the book, The Tragic Myth of Millet's "Angelus", analysing Millet's work. Dalí included variations of Angelus in many of his own paintings.

Millet's work influenced later painters such as Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh and Camille Pissarro.

He died in Barbizon. His native house can be visited in La Hague.