- Place of origin:
Michel, Georges, born 1763 - died 1843 (artist)
- Materials and Techniques:
oil on panel
- Credit Line:
Bequeathed by Constantine Alexander Ionides
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Georges Michel (1763-1843) was born in Paris. In 1775 he was apprenticed to the history painter Leduc. He later travelled to Switzerland and Germany. In 1790 he probably met the painter Lazare Bruandet (1755-1804). Around 1800 he restored Flemish and Dutch paintings by Rembrandt, Ruisdael and Meindert Hobbema in the Musée du Louvre After 1820 until his death, Michel, who had little interest in fame, gradually withdrew from the art world.
This painting is a fine example of George Michel’s production of landscape paintings reminiscent of 17th-century Dutch imagery. This painting shows a windmill, a typical Dutch feature, in a wide flat landscape under a stormy sky. The direct observation of nature and interest in atmospheric effect are characteristic of the Realist movement emerged in the 1840s in France. In this regard, Michel can be considered as a precursor of this new approach to art.
On the left, a mill on a height; beyond, a wide landscape under a stormy sky.
Place of Origin
Michel, Georges, born 1763 - died 1843 (artist)
Materials and Techniques
oil on panel
Height: 46 cm estimate, Width: 37.7 cm estimate
Object history note
Bequeathed by Constantine Alexander Ionides, 1900. Among the last paintings collected by Constantine Alexander Ionides, The Mill was purchased on 27 June 1892 for £84 (it bore in his inventory - private collection - the title 'Windsmill sweep of landscape'). Subsequently bequeathed to the Museum in 1900.
Historical significance: Nicknamed 'Ruisdael of Montmartre', Georges Michel was an independent painter, partially self-taught, whose activity as a restorer of Netherlandish paintings in the Louvre gave him the capacity of mastering the 17th-century Dutch technique. The present painting is in this respect a fine example of this revived technique and is strongly reminiscent of one of Rembrandt's best known compositions at the time: The Mill, now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rembrandt's painting was then in the collection of the Duc d'Orléans and only sold in London in 1792. Its design was also widely spread through numerous engravings. It is most likely that Michel had Rembrandt's composition in mind when it executed the present work.
In a time dominated by Neo-classicism, Michel acted as an outsider and is considered as a precursor of the realist painter Theodore Rousseau. Two years after his death, the Barbizon painter Charles Jacque acquired several of his works. His role is today recognized by critics as crucial in the evolution of 19th- and 20th-century landscape paintingeven though literature on him remains sparse. Little interested in fame, Michel ussually did not sign his works.
Historical context note
19th-century Western 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 Mill', Georges Michel, 1830s
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
C.J.Holmes, 'The Constantine Ionides Bequest, Article III - The French Landscape Painters', The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, vol. 5, no. 19 (Oct. 1904), pp. 26.
'The movement in France was really begun by Gros, Géricault and Delacroix, yet there was one landscape painter working in obscurity and isolation, and utterly without influence upon his contemporaries and immediate successors, who deserves to be ranked with the pioneers of the romantic revolt. The little example of Michel at South Kensington is an dmirable one, showing how this poor and unappreciated artist turned away from the all-prevailing adoration of Claude to get a more fresh and serious inspiration from Rembrandt. No better proof of his genuineness of his sincere naturalism could perhaps be adduced than the fact that his works are not infrequently mistaken for those of Crome. (....). In the French school Michel occupies a position somewhat similar to that held by Wilson in England, the position of a pioneer who stands half-way between the old art and the new. Like poor Wilson, too, he suffered for his boldness, and it is only of comparatively recent years that his name has emerged from the oblivion to which his contemporaries condemned it'.
C. Lewis Hind, Landscape Painting from Giotto to the Present Day, 1923, p. 234
'The best and most characteristic Michel I know is The Mill. (...) It is a smallish, dark picture with an immense grey-blue sky, lightening in the centre. To the height stands the mill on a height, and outstretching is the plain of Montmartre, with a gleam of light falling across a cornfield in the middle distance. Unappreciated Michel of Montmartre loved those gleaming splashes.'
Kauffmann, C.M. Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, II. 1800-1900 , London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, p. 73, cat. no. 161.
The following is the full text of the entry:
Georges MICHEL (1763-1843)
Born at Paris in 1763, he was influenced by Dutch 17th century landscape painters and is regarded as a precursor of Rousseau. His landscapes are chiefly derived from the environs of Paris. He exhibited at the Salon from 1791 to 1814 and continued to paint until his death in 1843.
18 1/8 X 14 7/8 (46 X 37.7)
The windmill is a common feature in Michel's paintings, but the upright format is unusual.
Prov. Constantine Alexander Ionides; bequeathed to the Museum in 1900.
Lit. Sir. C. Holmes in Burl. Mag., vi, 1904-05, p. 26 f., repr.; C. L. Hind, Landscape painting from Giotto to the present day, i, 1923, p. 234, repr.; Long, Cat. Ionides Coll., 1925, p. 40.
Oil paint; Panel
Landscape; Windmill; Montmartre; Wind-storms