Jean-Francois Millet

Portrait of Millet by Nadar. Date unknown.

Portrait of Millet by Nadar. Date unknown.

Jean-Francois Millet (October 4, 1814 – January 20, 1875) was a French painter and one of the founders of the Barbizon school in rural France. He is noted for his scenes of peasant farmers. He can be categorized as part of the movement termed “naturalism”, but also as part of the movement of “realism”.

Millet was the first child of Jean-Louis-Nicolas and Aimee-Henriette-Adelaide Henry Millet, members of the peasant community in the village of Gruchy, in Greville-Hague (Normandy). Under the guidance of two village priests, Millet acquired a knowledge of Latin and modern authors, before being sent to Cherbourg in 1833 to study with a portrait painter named Paul Dumouchel. By 1835 he was studying full-time with Lucien-Theophile Langlois, a pupil of Baron Gros, in Cherbourg. A stipend provided by Langlois and others enabled Millet to move to Paris in 1837, where he studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts with Paul Delaroche. In 1839 his scholarship was terminated, and his first submission to the Salon was rejected.

An important figure in French painting of the mid-19th century, the artist Jean-Francois Millet was a founding member of the Barbizon landscape school in France and is best known for his genre-painting and landscape painting – mainly featuring the back-breaking rural life of the French peasantry. His style can be categorized as both Naturalism and religious realism. His most notable paintings include The Angelus (1858, Musee d’Orsay), The Gleaners (1857, Musee d’Orsay), The Sower (1850, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), and the arresting Man with a Hoe (1860, J Paul Getty Museum, LA). Many of Millet’s paintings are available online as prints in the form of poster art. NOTE: For an explanation of how Realism led to Impressionism and ultimately to abstraction, see: Realism to Impressionism (1830-1900).