Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Jean-François Millet: Artist of the Peasants

 Along with many 19th century Russian artists, Jean-Francois Millet (1814-1875) found much inspiration from the life of the peasants in the French village where he was born.



Although Millet was the oldest and expected to work on the family farm in a time when family labor made the difference in survival or not. Yet, his father recognized his son's talent and sent him to Cherbourg to study art. He initial attempts to exhibit his art in Paris were unsuccessful and he settled away from Paris in Barbizon - a small hamlet.



It was in Barbizon where he turned to the peasant lifestyle that would give him recognition as an artist and criticism as a Socialist. It was also the place where he and Rousseau founded the Barbizon School - dedicated to the art of Realism and Natural landscapes. (The school existed from 1830-1870. The biggest impact was to put nature ahead of historical paintings.)




During those years in Barbizon, Millet gained international status with such paintings as "The Gleaners" and the commission by an American of "The Angelus." 


The American did not take the painting. Upon Millet's death, the painting went to a bidding war auction and ultimately this paintings of humility sold for 800,000 gold francs! The irony being not only the contrast of the painted scene and the price paid, but also that Millet's family, left poor by his death, received none of the money.  This disparity led to a law in France known as "droit de suite." This law, now in several EU countries, allows for the artists or heirs to receive a fee on the resale of the work. 


Fascinating how an artist, who painted the hard and humble lives of the peasants, led to political criticism and capitalist greed. It was a glimpse into the future of art as it moved away
from patronage to market forces.

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