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Artists Jean-François Millet
Jean-François Millet Photo

Jean-François Millet

French Painter

Movements and Styles: Realism, The Barbizon School, Naturalism

Born: October 4, 1814 - Gruchy, in Gréville-Hague (Normandy)

Died: January 20, 1875 - Barbizon, France

Jean-François Millet Timeline

Quotes

"Art is not a diversion. It is a conflict, a complication of wheels in which one is crushed."
Jean-François Millet
"If I could only do what I like, I would paint nothing that was not the result of an impression directly received from nature, whether in landscape or in figure."
Jean-François Millet
"The beautiful is the fitting,"
Jean-François Millet
"I try not to have things look as if chance brought them together, but as if they had a necessary bond between them."
Jean-François Millet
"My dream is to characterize the type."
Jean-François Millet
"Give me signboards to paint, if you will, but at least let me think out my subjects in my own fashion and finish the work that I have to do, in peace."
Jean-François Millet
"My critics are educated people and of taste, I imagine; But I cannot put myself in their shoes; And as I have never seen anything other than the fields in my life, I try to say as I can what I have seen and experienced when I was working on it."
Jean-François Millet
"To tell the truth, the peasant subjects suit my temperament best; for I must confess, even if you think me a socialist, that the human side of art is what touches me most."
Jean-François Millet
"The mission of art is a mission of love, not of hate."
Jean-François Millet
"You must thoroughly feel what you are going to draw."
Jean-François Millet

"A peasant I was born, a peasant I will die."

Jean-François Millet Signature

Synopsis

French painter Jean-François Millet, whose humble manner of living stands in stark contrast to the impact his work had on many artists who succeeded him, saw Godliness and virtue in physical labor. Best known for his paintings of peasants toiling in rural landscapes, and the religious sub-texts that often accompanied them, he turned his back on the academic style of his early artistic education and co-founded the Barbizon school near Fontainbleau in Normandy, France with fellow artist Théodore Rousseau.

Millet saw his share of successes and failures with both critics and the public. People were deeply class-conscious amid France's politically volatile climate and perceived with suspicion anyone celebrating the 'nobility' of the peasant-class. Nevertheless, his personal convictions, use of Naturalism, and unromanticized imagery helped lay a foundation for later modern movements in art, and in due course, he became highly-regarded within the art world. Consequently, his practice impacted markedly the methods of many later painters, photographers, and writers who saw Millet as an inspiration, mentor, and friend.

Key Ideas

Raised in a deeply religious rural farming family, Millet saw the peasant-class as most nobly fulfilling the words of the Old Testament Book of Genesis 3:19, which read: "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." This served as a subtext in most of his paintings throughout his Barbizon years.
While most artists of the Barbizon school concentrated on landscapes painted en plein air, Millet preferred to depict the life of ceaseless toil required of the peasant class, a social stratum for which he had great respect. He saw himself as being thoroughly of the peasant-class, stating his discomfort in the drawing rooms of the upper classes, and thus resolved to paint only that which he knew best.
Millet depicted his peasants in the same manner earlier movements reserved for more exalted subjects. As a result, his shepherds and farm laborers occupied large spaces on the canvas formerly occupied by historic or Biblical figures, or mythological heroes. Consequently, many of his detractors saw him as an unspoken social critic with a leftist viewpoint, as were fellow Realists Honoré Daumier and Gustave Courbet. It was a time of social unrest in France brought about by the February Revolution of 1848, which did away with the monarchy. This was followed only months later by the bloody, but unsuccessful June Days Uprising in Paris, a rebellion by working-class people who saw their newly elected government becoming increasingly conservative. Millet, however, insisted his interests bore no relation to the politics of the time.
Millet's paintings often display traits of his earlier art education during the Romantic period. Previous to the Barbizon school his subjects incorporated mythological and religious imagery, both associated with the French Academy and the 'otherworldly' aspects of Romanticism. While his mature works in Realism were devoted to genre paintings of poor peasants and toiling farmers, there is a subtext rooted in his family's spiritual faith, though it is no longer the main point. This is evident in his iconic paintings The Harvesters Resting (Ruth and Boaz), The Gleaners, and The Angelus.
Millet's later works, with their looser, more gestural brushwork, exhibit a freer exchange with non-academic painters such as Impressionists Claude Monet and Andres de Santa Maria, as well as inspiring Georges Seurat, Vincent van Gogh, and Salvador Dalí. Van Gogh, in particular, found a great deal of inspiration in Millet's style and subject matter, being drawn to his images of simplicity in the rural life of farmers.
The expressiveness of Millet's brushwork in his late painting Birds' Nesters of 1874 communicates the frenzied movements of the hunters and the explosive panic of the birds so effectively that the viewer is able to experience the intensity themselves. The strong emotion of the painting carries overtones of Romanticism. What puts Birds' Nesters within Realism, however, was the grim reality of the hunt and its necessity so that poor peasants could feed themselves and their families.

Biography

Jean-François Millet Photo

Childhood

Millet was the second child of Jean-Louis-Nicolas and Aimee-Henriette-Adelaide Henry Millet, modest peasants who were part of a large extended family in the rural community of Gruchy. His father appreciated music and beauty in nature, as he would show the boy a blade of grass and say, "Look, how beautiful this is." Millet was his grandmother's favorite, and she encouraged a love of reading and a deep spirituality in him. He attended the local school where he studied Latin and read Saint Augustine and Virgil as well as classic French authors. He also learned other aspects of country life, as he was challenged to fight by older boys at school, and worked long days on his family's farm. His somber sensibility was fundamentally shaped by rural work, as he said, "I have never seen anything but fields since I was born, I try to say as best I can what I saw and felt when I was at work."

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Jean-François Millet Biography Continues

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Jean-François Millet
Interactive chart with Jean-François Millet's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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Artists

Honoré DaumierHonoré Daumier
MichelangeloMichelangelo
Nicolas PoussinNicolas Poussin

Personal Contacts

Constant Troyon
Narcisse Diaz
Charles Jacque
Theodore RousseauTheodore Rousseau

Movements

RealismRealism
The Barbizon SchoolThe Barbizon School

Influences on Artist
Jean-François Millet
Jean-François Millet
Years Worked: 1840 - 1875
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Vincent van GoghVincent van Gogh
Georges SeuratGeorges Seurat
Salvador DalíSalvador Dalí
Claude MonetClaude Monet

Personal Contacts

William Morris HuntWilliam Morris Hunt
Edward Wheelwright
Charles Jacque
Theodore RousseauTheodore Rousseau

Movements

ImpressionismImpressionism
Post-ImpressionismPost-Impressionism
SurrealismSurrealism
Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism

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Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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