- Place of origin:
Jean-François Millet, born 1814 - died 1875 (artist)
- Materials and Techniques:
oil on canvas
- Credit Line:
Bequeathed by Constantine Alexander Ionides
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Paintings, room 81, case WEST WALL
Jean-François Millet (1814-1875) was born in Normandy and first trained with a local portrait painter, Bon Du Mouchel (1807-1846), and later in Cherbourg with Lucien-Théophile Langlois (1803-1845), a pupil of Antoine-Jean Gros (1771-1835). In Paris, he then entered the atelier of the history painter Paul Delaroche (1797-1856). He first specialised in portraiture and then moved towards the naturalistic style with peasant scenes for which he became best known.
This painting is a fine example of Millet's early output. It depicts a shepherdess looking after her flock, a recurrent subject matter in the artist's oeuvre. Although he also executed a number of portraits, Millet is best known for his scene of the contemporary rural life often interpreted as a reaction against the industrial revolution and the rural depopulation which started as soon as the 1840s. His free brushwork made him one of the most authoritative exponents of the Barbizon school.
A shepherdess, leaning against a haystack, is looking after her flock; a luminous plain behind trees in the left background.
Place of Origin
Jean-François Millet, born 1814 - died 1875 (artist)
Materials and Techniques
oil on canvas
Marks and inscriptions
'Goupil and Co.' label on back.
'J. F. Millet'
Height: 20.3 cm estimate, Width: 32 cm estimate
Object history note
Millet studio sale, Paris, 10-11 May Paris 1875, lot 6; sold for 3,300 francs; purchased by Ionides for £800 before 1881; bequeathed to the Museum in 1900.
At some point the painting may have passed through the hands of the French dealer Adolphe Goupil, see his label on the back.
Historical significance: This painting is a fine example of Millet's early output. It depicts a shepherdess leaning against a haystack and watching after her flock. It was probably painted in the early 1850s (1850-1852) and displays a broad, fluid brushwork characteristic of Millet painterly technique.
Millet is best known for his representations of the contemporary rural life and among these, the topic of the shepherdess looking after her flock recurs throughout the 1850s and 1860s (see for instance Shepherdess in the Baltimore Museum of Art; The Young Shepherdess in the Musée d'Orsay, Paris).
There is a preparatory drawing for this precise composition in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Inv. 76.438 and lot 126 in the Millet sale). The drawing as well as the painting focuses on the rendering of light through the trees' trunks on the left background while the right half of the composition is left in the shadow. This backlighting effect would become a recurrent compositional formula in Millet's oeuvre. A number of works would be executed following this technique by gradually increasing the contrast between light and shade such as in his masterpiece Angelus, Musée d'Orsay, Paris, executed shortly after between 1857 and 1859.
Historical context note
19th-century French art is marked by a succession of movements based on a more or less close relationship with nature. At the beginning of the century, Romantic artists were fascinated by nature they interpreted as a mirror of the mind. They investigated human nature and personality, the folk culture, the national and ethnic origins, the medieval era, the exotic, the remote, the mysterious and the occult. This movement was heralded in France by such painter as Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863). In its opposition to academic art and its demand for a modern style Realism continued the aims of the Romantics. They assumed that reality could be perceived without distortion or idealization, and sought after a mean to combine the perception of the individual with objectivity. This reaction in French painting against the Grand Manner is well represented by Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) who wrote a 'Manifesto of Realism', entitled Le Réalisme published in Paris in 1855. These ideas were challenged by the group of the Barbizon painters, who formed a recognizable school from the early 1830s to the 1870s and developed a free, broad and rough technique. They were mainly concerned by landscape painting and the rendering of light. The works of Narcisse Virgile Diaz de la Peña (1807-1876), Jules Dupré (1811-1889), Théodore Rousseau (1812-1867), Constant Troyon (1810-1865) and Jean-François Millet (1814-1875) anticipate somehow the plein-air landscapes of the Impressionists.
Oil painting, 'The Shepherdess', Jean-François Millet, 1850-1852
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Monkhouse, Cosmo, 'The Constantine Ionides Collection' in Magazine of Art, 1884, p. 43, repr.
Henley, W. E., Memorial of the French and Dutch Loan Collection, Edinburgh International Exhibition 1886, 1888, no. 77.
Tomson, A., Jean-François Millet and the Barbizon School, 1903, repr. facing p. 18.
Soullié, L., Les grandes peintures aux ventes publiques, ii, Jean-François Millet, 1900, p. 4.
Kauffmann, C.M., The Barbizon School, V&A Museum, 1965, p. 19, pl. 22.
Kauffmann, C.M. Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, II. 1800-1900 . London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, pp. 73-75, cat. no. 163.
The following is the full text of the entry:
Jean-François MILLET (1814-75)
Born in Normandy of peasant stock Millet's first professional training was acquired in Cherbourg under the painters Mouchal and Langlois in 1833-36. He went to Paris in 1837, where he was a pupil of Paul Delaroche, and for the next ten years painted mainly portraits and scenes galantes in the manner of Diaz. At about the time of the Revolution of 1848, he turned increasingly to painting rural scenes; in 1849 he moved to Barbizon, where he became a close friend of Theodore Rousseau, and where he remained for the rest of his life. Although attacked for his concentration on peasant subjects, he won increasing public recognition in the 1860s, and was awarded the Legion of Honour in 1868.
Lit. E. Moreau-Nélaton, Millet raconté par lui-meme, Paris, 1921; R. L. Herbert, Barbizon revisited, New York, 1963; ibid., Millet (in preparation).
Signed lower right, J. F. Millet
8 X 12 5/8 (20.3 X 32)
Dated c. 1853-54 in the Millet sale, but R. L. Herbert's suggested date, 1851, carries greater conviction. There is a preparatory drawing in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (black chalk, 19.9 X 31 cm., Millet sale, no. 126).
Condition. Prominent surface cracks.
Prov. Millet sale, Paris, 10 May 1875, lot 6, 3,300 francs; Goupil & Co. (label on back); Constantine Alexander Ionides before 1884; bequeathed to the Museum in 1900.
Exh. French and Dutch Loan Collection, Edinburgh International Exhibition, 1886, no. 1124 (no. 77 of Mem, cat.); French and Dutch Romanticists, Dowdeswell Galleries, 1889, no. 83.
Lit. Monkhouse, 1884, p. 43, repr.; A. Tomson, Jean Francois Millet and the Barbizon School, 1903, repr. facing p. 18; L. Soullie, Les grande peintres aux ventes publiques, ii, Jean-François Millet, 1900, p, 4; Long, Cat. Ionides Coll., 1925, p. 42, pl. 23; V. & A. Museum, The Barbizon School, 1965, p. 19, pl, 12.
French and Dutch Romanticists (Dowdeswell Galleries 01/01/1889-31/12/1889)
French and Dutch Loan Collection (Edinburgh International Exhibition 01/01/1886-31/12/1886)
Oil paint; Canvas