Jean Francois Millet was born on October 4, 1814, to Jean-Louis-Nicolas and Aimée-Henriette-Adélaïde Henry Millet. Jean Francois began his life in a quiet French village called Gruchy (located in Gréville-Hague, or Normandy). It’s doubtful that the members of the small village had any idea that Millet would mature to become a notable, if not revered painter.
Two village priests saw to Millet’s education, and under their guidance the young Jean Francois became familiar with modern authors and Latin. In 1833 he was sent to study at Cherbourg with Paul Dumouchel, a portrait painter. In just two short years Millet was studying with Lucien-Théophile Langlois, who was a pupil of Baron Gros. The time spent in Cherbourg afforded Jean Francois much opportunity to glean artistic guidance from his mentors.
In 1837 Jean Francois Millet moved to Paris. This was made possible in part by the stipend he was receiving from Langlois. While in Paris, Millet studied with Paul Delaroche at the École des Beaux-Arts. Jean Francois did not realize the artistic success he sought at the École des Beaux-Arts. His scholarship was removed in 1839. Millet’s artwork was also rejected by the Salon (the École des Beaux-Arts’ art exhibition) that year. The young artist’s lack of success was short-lived, and in 1840 the Salon accepted one of his portraits.
Millet moved back to Cherbourg and became a professional portraitist in 1840. The artist married Pauline-Virginie Ono, whom he returned to Paris with, the following year. Tragically, consumption took Pauline’s life in a very short time span. Jean Francois married again in 1853, this time to Catherine Lemaire. He and Lamaire had nine children and stayed married throughout Millet’s life.
After moving to Paris with his wife, Catherine, Millet became friends with artists Charles Jacque, Narcisse Diaz, Constant Troyon, and others. Jean Francois, along with these men, would later associate himself with the Barbizon school.
Jean Francois Millet began to build some artistic notoriety around 1847 when the Salon exhibited his painting titled Oedipus Taken Down from the Tree. His success bled into the following year when the French government purchased Winnower. Also in 1848, the Salon exhibited The Captivity of the Jews in Babylon.
The Captivity of the Jews in Babylon was met with much criticism, and it was believed for a while that the artist disposed of it himself. It was later discovered that Millet re-used the canvas, covering Captivity with The Young Shepherdess. This probably took place during the Franco-Prussian War.
Millet continued to polish his craft, and in 1849 he painted Harvesters and put Shepherdess Sitting at the Edge of the Forest on exhibition. Shepherdess Sitting marked an artistic milestone for Millet as it was more realistic than his prior “idealized pastoral subjects.”
1850 was a particularly abundant year for Millet. First, Sensier began to trade art materials for drawings and paintings created by Millet, who was also paid for his creations. At the same time, Jean Francois was permitted to sell his works to the public. Also in 1850, Millet displayed The Sower and Haymakers. The Sower is acknowledged as the artist’s “first major masterpiece.”
Jean Francois painted The Gleaners in 1857. This piece is probably Millet’s best-known work, and for good reason. The piece is characterized by a warm golden tone and invites viewers into the daily life of a poverty-stricken gleaner. Millet had a true talent for portraying hardships while at the same time highlighting the beauty that lies within pain.
Jean Francois Millet died on January 20, 1875. He left behind an incredible legacy of artistic excellence. It is amazing to consider that Millet was not born to a family of wealth or title, yet he ended his life as a master painter. This makes Jean Francois Millet not only a superb artist, but also a true inspiration. Do you have a favorite artist that has inspired you?
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