Jean-François Millet

1814 - 1875

Place Born

Gruchy, near Gréville

Place Died



Jean-Francois Millet is most widely remembered for his paintings of peasants at work — The Sower, The Gleaners, The Man with a Hoe. Millet was indeed the leading figure painter among the Barbizon artists, but almost from his arrival in the tiny village he drew the surrounding fields and forests. Although Millet’s paintings and pastels of rain-drenched kitchen gardens or twilight dissolving the vast Chailly plain were not widely seen until a series of exhibitions after his death, these challenging landscapes had a profound impact on the rising young artists who formed the Impressionist group.

The son of a Norman peasant, Millet was raised with every expectation that he would take over his family’s farm. Only at the relatively late age of 19 did he begin drawing lessons with a provincial painter in nearby Cherbourg. In 1837 he was awarded a small scholarship that allowed him to study in Paris. There in the école des Beaux-Arts and the painting studio of Paul Delaroche, a highly successful history painter, Millet was trained in figure drawing and the compositional skills necessary for complex history pictures. He left the école in 1839 and attempted to launch a career back in Cherbourg as a portrait, genre, and sign painter. He returned to Paris in the late 1840s, determined to make his mark in the highly competitive capital. While submitting pictures with such traditional themes as the temptation of St. Jerome to the Salon juries, he increasingly concentrated his attention on smaller paintings of women carrying water or peasants driving cattle to market. Finally, he confirmed his commitment to representing the real lives of peasant workers with The Sower (Boston, Museum of Fine Arts), a picture that won him significant attention in what came to be known as the Realist Salon of 1850-51.

Millet had moved his family to Barbizon in 1849 and he remained there for the rest of his life. Throughout the 1850s and 1860s he produced a remarkable record of country life in drawings and paintings, although the market for these works was small and ill-paid; and he persevered even when criticism of The Gleaners (Paris, Musée d’Orsay) made it almost impossible to sell any work. Millet’s training and natural gifts had prepared him well for a largely figural art, but his mastery of landscape was won more slowly. His initial Barbizon subjects were set in cursory landscapes more notable for his subtle use of color than for specific observations of the countryside. With The Gleaners, 1857, he achieved his first real control of the immensity of the spreading fields that provided the Barbizon harvest; and for The Man with a Hoe (Santa Monica, Getty Museum) in 1862, he created a patch of textured, beautifully colored muddy earth that has never been equaled. A stay in the mountainous terrain of Vichy in 1866 consolidated Millet’s interest in pure landscape, and for the next decade, in drawings, pastels, and paintings, he focused on the common plants of the forest floor and on dramatic storms and dazzling sunlight on the broad Chailly plain. Millet sent only three landscape paintings to the Salon, and his superb achievement as a landscapist was not recognized until his watercolor and pen and ink drawings of Vichy were revealed in the studio sale following his death and a large number of his pastels were shown in a benefit exhibition/sale later the same year.

Alexandra Murphy

Art Works Sold

L'Amour Vainqueur

Sold or not Available
Historical Period: 1810-1870 Romanticism
L'Amour Vainqueur
The Old Wall

Sold or not Available
Historical Period: 1840-1900 Realism to Impressionism
The Old Wall