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 Jean Francois Millet  (1814 - 1875)

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About: Jean Francois Millet
 

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Lived/Active: France      Known for: bucolic-scene painting, peasant genre

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BIOGRAPHY for Jean Millet
Facts/Data
Birth
1814 (Gruchy, France)
 
Death
1875 (Barbizon, France)

Lived/Active
France




Often Known For
bucolic-scene painting, peasant genre

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Jean Francois Millet was what Gustave Courbet pretended to be: the son of peasants. Born in 1814, at Gruchy near Cherbourg, he spent most of his life in rural France.  He received his first instruction in art from Langlois at Cherbourg in 1832.  His aptitude was so obvious that he was granted a pension by the Municipal Council to enable him to study art in Paris.  In 1837, he joined the Parisian studio of Delaroche where Diaz and Rousseau were his fellow pupils.  He first exhibited at the Salon in 1840.  He was able to perceive the land and the labor it exacted from men as substance and process, not as a sight for city-dwelling impressionists on an outing.  For some time he earned a living painting portraits in Cherbourg where he had returned.  In 1845 he was in Paris once more; he devoted himself entirely to peasant and figure painting, at which he worked solely from memory.

Though he lived to see himself the most famous of the painters who worked at Barbizon, during much of his life he was on the verge of poverty.  There were times when Millet and his wife had nothing to eat, but they did make sure that their children did not suffer.  As a result of his privation he was subject all his life to fearful headaches and pains in his eyes.  But he never complained.

Yet Millet painted one of the most popular pictures of the 19th century.  Even his most famous canvas he had difficulty selling, but once sold, its rise in value was fantastic. But Millet's faults were made especially conspicuous by the trends of more modern painting.  He was a powerful draftsman, but he was indifferent to color; he was a touching poet, but he often became sentimental; he was an admirable humanitarian, but he rarely conveyed his feelings with any charm or beauty of brushwork.  Consequently his canvases sank in critical esteem to a point below their real worth.  He died at Barbizon surrounded by the life and people he had loved.

Written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California

Sources include:
Robert Hughes in Time Magazine, February 23, 1976
Masterpieces of Art: Catalogue of the New York World's Fair 1940

Biography from South Coast Fine Art:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Jean-François Millet was the son of Normandy farmers and began studying painting in Cherbourg, France  In 1838, with the aid of a scholarship, he moved to Paris and became briefly, a pupil of Paul Delaroche, but soon decided that he preferred to work alone.  He made frequent visits to the Louvre Museum, where he was particularly influenced by Buonarroti Michelangelo, Gaspard Poussin and Peter Paul Rubens.  In order to earn a living he painted shop signs and numerous portraits.

In the 1840s, Millet spent most of his time in Cherbourg, and after the death of his first wife in 1844, he spent a year in Le Havre where he exhibited with some success.

In 1849, he was persuaded by Charles-Emile Jacque to settle with his new family in Barbizon and discovered the green landscapes of this region where Rousseau and Diaz were already living.  Unlike the other Barbizon painters he was principally inspired by the occupations rather than the scenery of rural life and the daily toil of the peasants became his preferred subject.

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