The Artist Jean-Francois Millet

Born in 1814, the French painter Jean Francois Millet was associated with the Naturalism and Realism art movements. He is best known today for his farm scenes featuring local peasants. Aside from painting, Millet also sculpted. Additionally, he helped to create the Barbizon School which was located near France’s Fontainebleau Forest and was founded to helped support the Realism artistic style. One of Millet’s most famous scenes is The Gleaners (1857).

Millet was born to Jean-Louis-Nicholas Millet and his wife Aimee who were part of the Normandy village of Gruchy’s peasant community. With the support of the local parish, Millet studied literature and Latin. Later he went to Cherbourg where he studied under the painter Paul Dumouchel and later with Lucien Theophile Langlois. Having received a stipend, Millet was able to move to Paris by 1837 where he was enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. His first submission to the Salon was not accepted and his studies ended with the termination of his scholarship in 1839.

In 1841 Millet married Pauline Virginie Ono. They lived in Paris until her death from consumption in 1843. In 1845 he moved to Le Havre with his companion Catherine Lemaire. The pair did not marry until 1853, but remained wedded until the end of the artist’s life. They had nine children together. While in Le Havre Millet painted portraits and small-scale genre paintings. Upon moving back to Paris Millet became associated with the artists who, along with himself, would comprise the Barbizon School.

Along with his family, Millet moved to Barbizon in 1849. His painting Shepherdess Sitting at the Edge of the Forest (1849) demonstrates his transition into a Realistic painter whereby he left more romanticized scenes and pastoral paintings behind. This period witnessed his first masterpieces, Haymakers (1850) and The Sower (1850). His 1853 painting Harvesters Resting won the second class medal at the Salon. He considered this painting his most significant.

Millet submitted his painting The Gleaners (1857) to the Salon of 1857, but the painting was received poorly. The painting, however, would be the one for which Millet is best remembered. The work is famous for its use of light and its sense of the repetitive in peasant life. Today it can be found displayed at the Musee d’Orsay of Paris. The same year Millet painted The Angelus which is another work considered one of his masterpieces.

Although over the course of his career Millet’s paintings received a mix of praise and criticism, he came to be greatly respected later in his career. He became far more successful during the 1860s and was elected as a member of the Salon jury in 1870. He died in 1875. He was an important influence on later artists like Vincent van Gogh, Georges Seurat, and even Salvador Dali.