Jean-François Millet

Jean-François Millet, was born in 1814 in Gruchy, a hamlet ten miles west of Cherbourg in northwest France. Jean-Louis, the painter's father, possessed real artistic talent, though all his life was spent tilling the fields. He loved music and directed the village choir, he studied the forms of trees and plants; he modeled in clay when time permitted.
Jean-François absorbed his father's appreciation of beauty and art. As a boy, Jean-François traced prints from the family Bible and then tried freehand. From the beginning his parents and the parish priests recognized that he was extraordinary. The priests were careful to educate him the best they could in mythology, Greek, Latin and in translation, Skakespeare, Milton and Burns. All this time Jean-François was at home working on the family farm. He became a man of culture with the heart of a peasant. Later he declared of himself, "A peasant I was born and a peasant I will die."
His parents and the villagers commented favorably on his work. His father realized that he must go to Cherbourg to study art. At this point began Jean-François' lifelong work as an artist. He arrived in Paris in 1838 to become a pupil of Paul Delaroche. He had to fight against great odds, living for long a life of extreme penury. He exhibited at the Salon for the first time in 1840, and married two years later. Because he disliked Paris and city life, he was delighted to return to the country. Barbizon became his home until the time of his death in 1875.
Although towards the end of his life, when he started using a lighter palette and freer brushstrokes, his work showed some affinities with Impressionism, his technique was never really close to theirs. He had only a limited awareness of tonal values, but draughtsmanship had a monumentality that appealed to artists such as Seurat and van Gogh, who was also enthralled by his subject-matter, with its social implications. His work certainly influenced the young Monet, and even more decidedly so Pissarro, who shared similar political inclinations.
His paintings on rural themes attracted growing acclaim and between 1858 and 1859 he painted the famous Angélus (Musée d'Orsay), which 40 years later was to be sold for the sensational price of 553,000 francs.

Les Glaneuses


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