Jean Francois Millet Biography

Jean Francois Millet




Realist, naturalist, and co-founder of the Barbizonian style, Jean François Millet's art was- and is still- recognized as being one of the first to show the life of peasants in a dignified and elegant light. Born on October 4, 1814, the son of a Normandy farmer, Millet's respect for the working class inspired much of his work, and, unlike many of his time, he pursued the subject of rural daily life with the same passion as other artists pursued more accepted, idealized classical subjects.

Fortune led him to pursue his artistic career later in life than many of his contemporaries, perhaps to his benefit. At age twenty he began his art studies in Cherbourg, with Theophile Langlois, and in 1837 moved to Paris where he was under the tutelage of Paul Delaroche. Living in poverty and without the resources available to many other artists, he was unable to exhibit at the Salon until 1840; after this, he would do portraiture and small genre pieces before discovering the graphic prints of Daumier, whose subject matter and draftsmanship greatly inspired Millet, and his hesitancy to recreate his paintings in print form was altogether forgotten, and the translation was seamless. Applying his keen eye for light and tone to the plate, each etching stands apart from the painting it was inspired by, becoming small revelations in themselves.

Millet would abandon idealized pastoral scenes almost entirely in the mid 1840's, and, after moving to Barbizon with Catherine Lemaire and their children, he would create his first major body of work. This would also hail the beginning of his recognition as a revolutionary visionary in the art world- an artist to the people, as it were. Much of Van Gough's work would later echo this feeling of respect for the laborer, in how the simplicity of the setting exemplified the figures themselves. In one of Millet's most revered images, The Angelus, a farmer and his wife take a break from their work to pray beneath an evening sky. Some thought it to be a religious glorification; others believed it to be an homage to the hardships of the working class. Either way, an undeniable force is read within the scene: that of the hope for new life, and to endure, no matter the circumstances.

Millet died on January, 20, 1875, in Barbizon, France just two weeks after he married his longtime love, Catherine. He left behind nine children, a revolutionary body of work, and a legacy of inspiration for Vincent Van Gough, Salvador Dali, Claude Monet, Georges Seurat, and many others.