L'Amour Vainqueur
(Jean-François Millet)


The beautiful young woman in L’Amour Vainqueur, who hesitates so poignantly as a troop of charming putti pull and push and prod her toward a lovers’ rendezvous, is the last of the alluring nudes that were the great triumph of Jean-François Millet’s first decade as a mature artist. Millet worked on L’Amour Vainqueur between 1847 and 1851, during the same period in which he completed and exhibited The Sower (which won him renown at the Salon of 1850) and began his first scenes of Barbizon woodgatherers and harvesters. The hallmarks of Millet’s peasant realism – the carefully observant draughtsmanship, the eye for a telling gestural detail, and the power to focus a complex array of emotions in the posture of a single figure — are all foretold in this last of his romantic idylls.

Millet’s nudes are less well known today than his scenes of country laborers — many are undoubtedly lost and the whereabouts of L’Amour Vainqueur had gone unrecorded for nearly a century — but they are the crucible in which the realism for which the artist is so celebrated was first formed. When Millet left the École des Beaux-Arts in 1839, he tried assiduously to build a career on portrait painting and the history pictures of Salon competition. But those works would not support his growing household and he turned increasingly to small genre scenes depicting popular folk tales or an idealized rural life. Initially Millet drew nudes only to amuse friends or to explore poses for a large composition; but around 1846 he turned seriously to the study of the female nude, probably under the encouragement of his new friends Diaz and Troyon, who both had significant success with nudes painted in a deliberately eighteenth-century manner. Where those artists favored lush goddesses or doll-like female types devoid of personality, Millet preferred real females, and he looked to the example of Pierre Prud’hon rather than to Boucher or to Fragonard. L’Amour Vainqueur may specifically have been inspired by Prud’hon’s L’Amour seduisant L’Innocence (private collection, Paris) in which a young maiden listens avidly to the attractive young god by her side as a single putto pulls her along by her skirt. Prudhon’s painting of 1809 was exhibited in Paris in 1846 in a much heralded exhibition on the Boulevard Bonne-Nouvelle but would also have been available to Millet in a print.

Little is known of the clientele for Millet’s nudes. Generally, he sold his genre scenes for very modest prices to small Paris dealers such as Desforges or Beugniet. L’Amour Vainqueur, however, was sold on Millet’s behalf by Alfred Sensier, the artist’s friend, biographer and sometime-agent, directly to an unidentified collector. At a later date Sensier re-purchased the painting for his own extraordinary collection of Millet’s work. L’Amour Vainqueur first came to public notice when it was published in an etching by Le Rat under its alternative title Femme entrainé par les amours by the Durand-Ruel Gallery shortly after the dealer purchased much of Sensier’s collection in 1873. James Staats Forbes, a Scottish railroad baron who built a large collection of Barbizon and Dutch paintings during the last decades of the 19th century, lent the painting generously to exhibitions in Edinburgh and London, securely establishing its fame.

The only known preparatory work for L’Amour Vainqueur is Millet’s life study for the young woman’s head and torso (Cabinet des desins, Musée du Louvre), a drawing in crayon noir which has become Millet’s most widely reproduced image of a nude and has served as the only accessible evidence of the painting since the picture left the Forbes collection around 1907. A smaller Millet painting of a young woman clutching her draperies while assailed by cupids (often confused with L’Amour Vainqueur) was formerly in the collection of Sir Kenneth Clark and now belongs to the Musée Thomas Henry, Cherbourg.
Alexandra R. Murphy

18 ¼ by 15 ins. 46.5 x 38 cm.
Oil on canvas

Sold on behalf of the artist by Alfred Sensier (a friend and agent) to an unidentified collector, October 18, 1851; Possibly the Cachardy collection, sold Paris, February 12, 1853, under the title L’Innocence et l’amour; Alfred Sensier, Paris, sold to Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris, March 17, 1873; James Staats Forbes, London, probably purchased the work from Goupil & Cie in 1877 (for 8,000 francs); by descent to his heirs, 1904; With W. Scott and Sons, Montreal, before 1910; The Honorable Louis-Joseph Forget, Montreal, Canada, by descent to Madame L.-J. Forget, Montreal, 1911, and by descent.



Galerie Durand-Ruel, Recueil d’estampes gravées à l’eau-forte, Paris, 1873, repro., vol III CXXVII; “Femme entrainée par les amours,” gravé par Le Rat. D. C. Thomson, The Barbizon School of Painters, London, 1890, p. 215; Cartwright, Julia, Jean-François Millet, His Life and Letters, London, 1896, pp. 77-78, 370, 373; Halton, E. G., “The Staats Forbes Collection. I. The Barbizon Pictures” in The Studio, October, 1905, p, 46, reproduced p. 31; Arthur Tomson, Jean-François Millet, London, 1905, p. 44 (wrongly dates painting to 1844); Moreau-Nélaton, Étienne, Millet raconté par lui-même, Paris, 1921, vol. 1, p. 92, repro. fig. 72; [Herbert, Robert L.] Jean-François Millet, Paris: Editions des Musées Nationaux, exhibition catalogue, 1975, mentioned under nos. 28 and 34; Brooke, Janet M. Discerning Tastes: Montreal Collectors, 1880-1920 (exhibition catalogue for The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts), Montreal, 1989, listed in Inventory of Montreal collections, p. 214.


Edinburgh, International Exhibition, “French and Dutch Loan Collection,” 1886, no. 1144; Dublin, Leinster Hall, “Loan Collection of Modern Paintings,” 1899, no. 51; Dublin, Royal Hibernian Academy, “Pictures Presented and Lent to form a Nucleus of Modern

‘Hundred Masterpieces Exhibition’, 1892, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris.

Historical Period
Romanticism - 1810-1870
2001-European Paintings-From 1600-1917.
Baroque, Rococo, Romanticism, Realism, Futurism.

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