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February 16–May 17, 2020

Main Exhibition Galleries, East Building

 


Gallery 241

Millet and Modern Art: From Van Gogh to Dalí

French artist Jean-François Millet (1814–1875) was a pioneer in developing innovative imagery of rural peasant life, landscapes, and nudes. In the late 19th century, he was arguably the best-known modern painter, and his works sold for the highest prices of any modern pictures at auction. Today, Millet is less well known, and this exhibition seeks to revive his importance and recognize his radicalism. The works on view by Millet and his successors present an alternative and novel narrative for the history of Western modern art, emanating from his work.

Millet was born in the northwestern French coastal community of Gréville in Normandy. He came from a well-to-do and religious farming family. From 1849 until his death, he lived and worked in Barbizon, a village 35 miles southeast of Paris, where artists gathered. In his lifetime, Millet’s ennobling treatment of working-class peasant life, considered inappropriate by the established French Academy of Fine Arts, was controversial. So too was his painting technique, which involved the use of rough brushstrokes and flattened, semi-abstract forms. Soon after his death, the French State embraced Millet as a national hero who had captured the nation’s countryside in all its glory.

For the first time, this exhibition demonstrates the broad impact of Millet’s paintings, pastels, drawings, and prints on successive artists. Discover how Millet’s work inspired an international following, including featured artists Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, Giovanni Segantini, Winslow Homer, Paula Modersohn-Becker, Edvard Munch, and Salvador Dalí, among others. These artists admired Millet’s avant-garde approach, inventive techniques, and use of materials, which they merged with their own creative ideas.

Director introduction begins here. Audio guide available at slam.org/audio #MilletandModernArt #STLArtMuseum

 

 

This exhibition is organized by the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, with exceptional support from the Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

The exhibition is presented in St. Louis by the Betsy and Thomas Patterson Foundation.

Additional support is provided by the E. Desmond Lee Family Endowment for Exhibitions; the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency; the National Endowment for the Arts; and Christie’s. The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

 

 

Jean-François Millet
French, 1814 –1875
Self Portrait, c.1840–41
oil on canvas
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Museum purchase with funds donated by contribution 2020.49

 

 

Jean-François Millet

French, 1814–1875

These five paintings introduce Millet’s characteristic subjects, notably aspects of peasant life and rustic landscapes. A Sheepshearer, painted on a monumental scale, highlights the importance of women’s labor in French rural life. In the tender Waiting, Millet imagined a biblical scene set in a contemporary French village, as parents Anna and Tobit anxiously await the return of their son. Millet’s representation of the harsh aspects of peasant existence is evident in Pig Killers.

Two landscapes depict sites that are close to the artist’s birthplace in the province of Normandy. One of them, Church at Gréville, entered the Luxembourg Museum, the French national museum of contemporary art, in 1875. It became one of the artist’s best-known works.

These paintings demonstrate Millet’s ability as a colorist. From the silvery blues of the shears and pink sleeve in A Sheepshearer to the red waistcoat in Waiting and the greens and lavenders in the rocks of Pasture near Cherbourg (Normandy), Millet’s mastery of hue and tone is ever enchanting.

 

The Pig Killers, 1867–70
oil on canvas
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Purchased 1978 2020.77

 

Waiting, c.1853–61
oil on canvas
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri (Purchase: William Rockhill Nelson Trust) 30–18 2020.76

 

A Sheepshearer, c.1860
oil on canvas
Galerie Millet 2020.79

 

Church at Gréville, 1871–7
oil on canvas
Musée d’Orsay, Paris 2020.78

 

Pasture near Cherbourg
(Normandy), 1871–72
oil on canvas
Lent by the Minneapolis Institute of Art, Bequest of Mrs. Erasmus C. Lindley in memory of her father, James J. Hill 2020.73

 

 


Gallery 242

Rural Labor in France

In mid-19th-century France, 75% of the population worked in rural agriculture. Jean-François Millet prided himself on his knowledge of various aspects of farming. He was fascinated by the cycle of the seasons and worked on the land as a young man. Millet’s art represents age-old patterns of life in the fields in the years before large-scale mechanization transformed the existence of the agricultural worker.

Millet’s imagery focuses on themes of sowing seed, reaping wheat, and gleaning, the activity of collecting grains of wheat left after the harvest. He represented his rural figures with a sense of heroism and dignity, often depicting them from innovative viewpoints from behind or below. His support and respect for the peasants carried political weight at a time when male agricultural workers had recently gained the right to vote following the French Revolution of 1848. Millet was also deeply sympathetic to difficult conditions for working women, who earned about half as much as men did.

Millet was exceptional in his lifetime for frank depictions of the harsh realities of rural life. His approach stands in contrast to the idealized treatment of such subjects portrayed with photographic clarity, of his fellow peasant painter Jules Breton. This gallery explores the impact of some of Millet’s most influential works on international artists, who updated Millet’s visual language through the use of brighter colors.

 

 

Jean-François Millet
French, 1814–1875

The Sower, c.1865
pastel and Conté crayon on beige paper,
mounted on wood pulp board

A rural worker sows seeds on the plain of Barbizon, in north-central France, as dramatic light breaks through clouds. Millet built up the textures of the earth by mixing black Conté crayon with marks of red, yellow, mauve, green, and brown pastel.

Millet’s fascination with the sower theme continued throughout his career. This pastel is a variant of an example seen by Vincent van Gogh in 1875 at the sale of the private collection of the architect and collector Emile Gavet. On entering the exhibition gallery at that time, Van Gogh wrote that he felt as if he were treading on holy ground in the presence of work by Millet.

Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Norman Hirschel 2020.50

 

 

Vincent van Gogh
Dutch, 1853–1890

Sower, 1881
charcoal and black chalk on laid paper

Vincent van Gogh based this early drawing on a live model rather than on Millet’s image. Van Gogh drew his figure wearing clogs and a cap, typical for Dutch agricultural laborers at this time. As a student, Van Gogh used the sower figure to understand the male form. He told his brother Theo in September 1880: “I have already drawn “The Sower” five times… and I am so completely absorbed in that figure that I will take it up again.”

Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, The Netherlands 2020.109

 

 

Giovanni Segantini
Italian, 1858–1899

The Sower, 1897
Conté crayon and black crayon on paper

Giovanni Segantini’s drawing, based on Millet’s images of sowers, depicts a lone figure casting seed across an open field. Known as the “Italian Millet,” Segantini often explored peasant themes similar to Millet’s in his works. Segantini’s use of Conté crayon—a hard stick made of compressed graphite and clay—and his simplification of forms reflect Millet’s influence. With the Conté crayon, Segantini emphasized strong interplays of light and dark, especially in the silhouette of the sower against the light clouds in the background, creating a powerful image. Segantini’s drawing had an underlying political message, as it was designed to illustrate the cover of an almanac for the Italian Socialist Party.

Segantini Museum, St. Moritz, Switzerland 2020.38

 

 

Félicien Rops
Belgian, 1833–1898

Satan Sowing Tares, from ‘Les Sataniques’,
1882
color aquatint

Belgian artist Félicien Rops transformed the heroic peasant figure from Millet’s painting The Sower into a terrifying devil striding over the city of Paris. The devil, like Millet’s sower, wears tattered work clothes as he scatters the seeds of evil—here in the form of women’s bodies and souls—across the city.

Rops spent time in Barbizon in north-central France, where he likely met Millet, and his early works are reminiscent of the older artist’s pictures of rural laborers. However, Rops became well known for strange and surreal imagery like this print, depicting demons, monsters, and femme fatales (dangerous women).

Musée Félicien Rops, Province de Namur 2020.30

 

 

John Singer Sargent
American (born Italy), 1856–1925

The Reaper, c.1875
graphite on off-white laid paper

American artist John Singer Sargent made this drawing, with its rapid notational pencil marks, after a widely circulated print of a reaper by Millet. As a young student in Paris, Sargent was interested in the work of Millet and probably saw exhibitions and sales of Millet’s work that took place in 1875. This example is one of four drawings Sargent made after the work of Millet. Sargent is best known for his society portraits, but he also depicted peasant subjects intermittently throughout his career.

Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Francis Ormond, 1950 (50.130.143a) 2020.107

 

 

Paul Cézanne
French, 1839–1906

The Reaper (after Millet), after 1879
graphite on paper

In this drawing, taken from a sketchbook, Paul Cézanne used a mixture of curved lines and skillful hatchings to evoke the strenuous work of the reaper. Cézanne based his image on a drawing by Millet that he viewed personally in the French national collection. Throughout his career, Cézanne focused on themes of peasantry, landscape, and the nude similar to Millet. Both artists were very controversial in their lifetimes, due in part to their unconventional approach to representing form and surface.

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Walter H. Annenberg, 1987 2020.53

 

 

Vincent van Gogh
Dutch, 1853–1890

The Reaper (after Millet),1889
oil on canvas

Vincent van Gogh’s rich, colorful image of a reaper is based on a black-and-white print by Millet. Van Gogh spoke of “translating” Millet’s work into color. He contrasted planes of cobalt blue in the sky with the golden yellow of wheat on the plain. Van Gogh saw the work of the reaper allegorically as a reference to death, comparable to the 14th-century figure of the grim reaper who harvests human souls.

Private Collection, Larry Ellison 2020.54

 

 

Jean-François Millet
French, 1814–1875

The Mower, 1866–67
pastel on paper

This large-scale pastel depicts a mower seen from behind as he cuts down grass in an expansive field. Other mowers are visible in the distance. Millet used his pastel stick, a crayon made of powdered pigment, in an innovative fashion. He represented grass in quick, zigzagging lines and in pure colors of green, red, white, yellow, and pink. In the last decade of his life, pastel became an increasingly important medium for Millet. This ambitious view represents a version of his earlier image of a laborer reaping wheat.

Hiroshima Museum of Art 2020.52

 

 

Laurits Andersen Ring
Danish, 1854–1933

Harvest, 1886
pastel on paper

This pastel features a rural farmer in southern Denmark wearing ragged and threadbare clothes with holes clearly visible. He is swinging a cradled scythe, a more modern version of the harvesting tool, which appears in Millet’s imagery. Danish artist Laurits Andersen Ring was a great admirer of the work of Millet and here showed his own success with pastel, particularly evident in his portrayal of the swaying wheat. As a member of the Danish Socialist Party, Ring was deeply attuned to the difficulties facing rural workers in the late 19th century.

Collection of Ambassador John L. Loeb Jr. 2020.87

 

 

Ferdinand Hodler
Swiss, 1853 –1918

The Reaper, c.1912
oil on canvas

In this rural scene, Swiss artist Ferdinand Hodler presented a large-scale, heroic peasant man reaping a field. The reaper was a subject he treated frequently, painting 11 variations of this theme over the course of several years. This reaper’s pose suggests the sweeping motion of the scythe, though by the time it was painted, the use of this tool was increasingly out of date. Hodler’s monumental figure dominates the landscape, relating to Millet’s depictions of peasant workers, such as The Mower, on view nearby. Both artists sought to highlight the close relationship between rural laborers and the land they worked.

Stiftung für Kunst, Kultur und Geschichte, Winterthur, Switzerland 2020.128

 

 

Paul Sérusier
French, 1863–1927

Breton Girl with Sickle, 1889
oil on canvas

Paul Sérusier depicted a peasant girl standing before a field of wheat. She holds a sickle with a curved, hook-like blade, an alternative to the longer scythe often used as a reaping tool. Her figure, placed in the foreground and seen from behind, calls to mind earlier images by Millet, such as The Mower, on view nearby. Sérusier simplified forms in order to create an image made up of decorative patterns and rich colors. This approach also relates to Millet’s style, frequently attacked by critics during his lifetime as “awkward” and “ugly.”

Private Collection 2020.114

 

 

Winslow Homer
American, 1836–1910

The Return of the Gleaner, 1867
oil on canvas

This image features a gleaner in a confident pose holding a two-pronged wooden hayfork. American artist Winslow Homer produced this work and 18 other paintings during a 10-month stay in France from 1866–67. Homer was well aware of the work of Millet and may have visited the village of Barbizon south of Paris during this time. Homer animated his scene with accents of tiny red flowers and divided his composition into three bands of sky, wheat, and earth.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2010.14 2020.81

 

 

Jean-François Millet
French, 1814–1875

Summer, The Gleaners, 1853
oil on canvas

In this scene, Millet represented three peasant women laborers, two bending over with similar curving forms, and a third, standing to take a moment of relief. Millet contrasted their hardship with the bounty evident in the stacks of wheat piled up behind them. He animated his scene with accents of color, such as the women’s marmottes (headscarves) in shades of mauve, red and green.

This picture is Millet’s earliest painting of gleaners, rural workers who picked up wheat left over in the fields after the harvest. Gleaning was a right traditionally granted by landowners to the poorest members of the community. The practice formed an important part of their family subsistence. By the 1850s, capitalistic farmers were increasingly charging for this right, which threatened the practice and led to considerable controversy in the countryside. This subject became very important for Millet, and this pivotal image established the dignified poses and gestures of his figures.

Yamanashi Prefectural Museum of Art 2020.80

 

 

Léon-Augustin Lhermitte
French, 1844–1925

The Gleaners, 1887
oil on canvas

Léon Lhermitte’s image of rural gleaners was undoubtedly inspired by Millet’s well-known treatment of the theme. His image is notably more detailed in its handling of the women’s features and attire. Lhermitte gave more attention to individual facial expressions, especially the pain of the woman bending over, second from right. Millet, in contrast, tended to generalize the features of his subjects. Vincent van Gogh admired the work of Lhermitte while Edgar Degas planned to invite him to contribute work to the fourth Impressionist exhibition, although this plan never came to fruition.

Philadelphia Museum of Art, The George W. Elkins Collection, 1924 2020.82

 

 

Vincent van Gogh
Dutch, 1853–1890

Peasant Woman Gleaning, July–August 1885
black chalk, grey wash, traces of fixative, on wove paper

The woman bent over here in Vincent van Gogh’s drawing refers stylistically and thematically to Millet’s controversial painting Summer, The Gleaners, on view in this gallery. Van Gogh admired Millet’s work for its tone of humble devotion and its straightforward depiction of peasant life. In his drawing, Van Gogh presented this woman with a sense of solemnity, suggesting the dignity of her labor. Though the field in which she works is sketch-like and minimal, it serves to highlight the strong connection between peasants and the land, a theme Van Gogh also adopted from Millet.

Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, The Netherlands 2020.83

 

 

Georges Seurat
French, 1859–1891

Peasant Laboring, 1882–83
oil on panel

In this painting, a man labors in a field, his stooped posture referencing the peasant women in Millet’s Summer, The Gleaners, on view nearby. Georges Seurat often traveled to regions around Paris to find peasants and laborers as models for his works, just as Millet did at Barbizon, south of Paris. Here, Seurat adopted the familiar pose from Millet’s work to explore complementary colors, color theory, and geometric shapes. He transformed the man into a rounded, flat silhouette whose blue pants play off against the rich yellows of the field.

Menard Art Museum, Japan 2020.122

 

 

Emile Bernard
French, 1868–1941

The Harvest, 1888
oil on canvas

Inspired by Millet’s images of gleaners, Emile Bernard depicted a harvest scene from the fields of Pont-Aven in Brittany, a region in northwestern France. The stooped harvesters clearly reference the gleaning women in Millet’s paintings like Summer, The Gleaners, on view in this gallery. However, Bernard used a new modern painting style, focusing on flat expanses of color and simplified silhouettes. Bernard was a great admirer of Millet and praised this same technique of simplification in the older artist’s work, calling Millet “the great poet of lines and values.”

Musée d’Orsay, Paris 2020.84

 

 

Paul Sérusier
French, 1863–1927

The Seaweed Gatherer, c.1890
oil on canvas

A solitary man bends forward to pick up pieces of seaweed in this painting by Paul Sérusier. The appearance of the reddish mounds of seaweed in the background suggests that this man is gathering whatever small pieces remain after the initial harvest, much like the women picking up bits of wheat in Millet’s images of gleaners. Sérusier painted peasants for many years in the coastal village of Le Pouldu, Brittany, in northwestern France. His use of flat areas of vibrant color often belies a feeling of melancholy from the lone peasant figures within the landscape.

Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, Samuel Josefowitz Collection of the School of Pont-Aven, through the generosity of Lilly Endowment Inc., the Josefowitz Family, Mr. and Mrs. James M. Cornelius, Mr. and Mrs. Leonard J. Betley, Lori and Dan Efroymson, and other Friends of the Museum, 1998.181, DiscoverNewfields.org 2020.85

 

 

Angelo Morbelli
Italian, 1853–1919

In the Rice Fields, 1901
oil on canvas

Here, Italian artist Angelo Morbelli represented the low-paid rice workers of northern Italy with a sense of monumental grandeur. Their poses are deeply indebted to the gleaners imagery of Millet, which Morbelli could have seen in reproduction or on view at the Paris World’s Fair of 1889. Morbelli modernized Millet’s technique, using individual threads of paint in brighter complementary colors, as seen in the foreground woman’s violet dress that contrasts with the yellow-green rice plants. Morbelli’s work often highlighted themes of rural labor and social hardship.

Private Collection 2020.86

 

 

Vincent van Gogh
Dutch, 1853–1890

The Sower, 1888
oil on canvas

Vincent van Gogh constructed this composition with a novel sense of flatness and two-dimensionality by outlining the forms of the sower and leaning tree in Prussian blue. The citron yellow of the sun and sky offsets the blues and violets of the land. The setting sun wreaths the sower’s head like a halo, giving him a sacred presence, which Van Gogh described as “that je ne sais quoi of the eternal,” meaning something that cannot be adequately described. This image represents a new and powerful direction in Van Gogh’s ongoing engagement with the theme of the sower.

Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation) 2020.51

 

 

Vincent van Gogh
Dutch, 1853 –1890

The Sower, 1888
oil on canvas

In this dramatic work, Vincent van Gogh represented his sower against a centrally placed incandescent sun with lines of light radiating out on either side. Van Gogh sought to modernize Millet’s work through his use of more luminous color, particularly the powerful complementary hues of yellow and violet as opposed to Millet’s more natural tones. He described his picture as an experiment with “a color suggesting some emotion, an ardent temperament.” He signed the work, which he painted at Arles in the south of France, at bottom left, simply with his first name.

Kröller Müller Museum, Otterlo, The Netherlands 2020.37

 

 

Jean-François Millet
French, 1814–1875

The Sower, after 1850
oil on canvas

A sower scatters seed from his bag while a ploughman and a wheeling flock of crows are seen in the distance. Millet represented his striding figure in a confident, heroic pose, suggesting the growing power of the rural worker. In 1850 one critic compared Millet’s sower to the “modern Demos,” meaning the modern populace. Another suggested that Millet’s depiction of the bare land evoked the very textures of the earth itself.

This painting is one of four painted variants of this important subject by the artist. Millet created it with thin, transparent oil washes, and the underpainting visible in the earth area may indicate it is unfinished. Millet’s serious approach to laborers was radical at a time when the conservative French Academy of Fine Arts considered idealized subjects from the Bible and ancient mythology as most elevated and desired. Likewise, Millet’s rough paint application subverted the accepted convention for more “polished” surfaces.

Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; 19th Century or Earlier Painting Purchase Fund with funds provided by Mr. and Mrs. Samuel B. Casey and Mr. and Mrs. George L. Craig, Jr., 63.7 2020.117

 

 

Vincent van Gogh
Dutch, 1853–1890

The Sower (after Millet), 1881
pencil, pen and brush in ink, and watercolor on paper

Millet’s composition of The Sower especially fascinated the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh. Over the course of his career, Van Gogh produced more than 30 versions of Millet’s work in different media. This drawing is one of Van Gogh’s earliest of the subject and, as can be seen with Millet’s picture alongside, Van Gogh remained very faithful to Millet’s composition. Van Gogh based his drawing on a reproductive print of Millet’s image rather than the painting itself.

Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation) 2020.31

 

 


Gallery 243

Laborers at Rest

In contrast to numerous depictions of hard physical labor in his peasant pictures, Millet frequently composed images of farm workers at rest. Often focused on quiet moments of respite, these works highlight the exhaustion resulting from exploitation of the rural poor, who toiled long hours in the fields for little pay. During the harvest, a 19th-century laborer’s day could extend from as early as 4 am until 6 pm In the middle of the day, when the heat was at its peak, laborers took a period of rest, or sieste, dozing in the shade of a haystack.

The painting Harvesters Resting (Ruth and Boaz) and the print series The Four Times of the Day are among Millet’s many images representing scenes of relaxation. His works were reproduced in prints and photographs and were widely disseminated. They circulated to a vast international audience and influenced a range of artists including American, Danish, and Dutch painters. In 1853, a Boston art collector purchased Harvesters Resting, and it became known by American painters including Winslow Homer. Homer responded to Millet’s pictures through his own paintings, such as The Bright Side, also on view in this gallery.

 

 

Léon-Augustin Lhermitte
French, 1844 –1925

Rest, Effect of the Hot Sun, Sleeping Reaper, Mézy, 1898
pastel on paper

Under a hot midday sun a male worker naps in the field. He is either about to be joined by a female companion or be shortly awakened by her. Like Millet, Léon Lhermitte was accomplished with pastels, and here he used vigorous sweeps of the pastel stick, particularly in the mounds of wheat. Elsewhere, Lhermitte applied cross-hatching in pink, yellow, and blue. In 1885, Van Gogh wrote, “For me, that man [Lhermitte] is Millet the Second…”

Private Collection, San Francisco, California 2020.39

 

 

John Singer Sargent
American (born Italy), 1856 –1925

Noon (from Scrapbook), 1875
graphite on off white laid paper

As a student in Paris, American artist John Singer Sargent made this drawing depicting a man and a woman resting in the field. It is based on Millet’s design for Noon, which was reproduced in Jacques Adrien Lavieille’s print series The Four Times of the Day. This series includes scenes of peasant life from morning, noon, evening, and nighttime based on drawings by Millet and was widely circulated. Sargent’s varied pencil marks closely capture the character of Millet’s original design.

Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Francis Ormond, 1950 (50.130.154d) 2020.88

 

 

Winslow Homer
American, 1836–1910

The Bright Side, 1865
oil on canvas

A group of African American mule drivers takes time to rest beneath a tent reminiscent of the haystack in Millet’s Harvesters Resting, on view alongside. Winslow Homer’s image seems to reinterpret Millet’s painting through the lens of race. A Unionist sympathizer, Homer portrayed these reclining men with calm dignity. The picture was exhibited in Paris at the World’s Fair in 1867, where Millet may have seen it. The title refers to the sunny side of the tent.

Fine Arts Museums of San Francsico,
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd 2020.55

 

 

Jean-François Millet
French, 1814–1875

Harvesters Resting (Ruth and Boaz), 1850–53
oil on canvas

Millet considered this picture one of his most important and produced more than 50 studies for it. At left,
a peasant foreman of a farm introduces a young gleaner to a group of resting harvesters. Millet’s work is notable for his generalizing approach to individual forms rather than his use of photographic naturalism. When this painting appeared at the 1853 Salon, the official, state-sponsored exhibition in Paris, one critic praised the “intelligent sacrifice of details.” Millet’s scene was initially inspired by the biblical Old Testament narrative of Ruth and Boaz, a gleaner and a landlord, who met in a grain field and later married.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of Martin Brimmer 2020.43

 

 

Camille Pissarro
French, 1830–1903

Peasants Resting, 1881
oil on canvas

Camille Pissarro captured Millet’s favorite subject of resting peasants in this scene. Pissarro’s picture reflects Impressionist experiments with complementary colors, particularly the use of violet shadows to offset areas of bright yellow sunlight. This painting was shown at the seventh Impressionist exhibition in 1882, when Pissarro’s work was repeatedly compared to that of Millet. Pissarro was reluctant to accept the association, writing in March 1882, “they throw Millet at me, but Millet was biblical! For a Jew, I seem to have little of that in me: it’s curious.”

Toledo Museum of Art, Purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey, 1935.6 2020.56

 

 

Laurits Andersen Ring
Danish, 1854–1933

A Harvest Girl, 1889
oil on canvas

Laurits Andersen Ring depicted a young woman amid a vast yellow field. Holding an armful of grain, she has stopped her work for a moment and gazes out at the viewer. The woman is neatly attired in a blue dress, a clean white apron, and a straw hat decorated with a pink ribbon. Yet her powerful, sunburnt hands suggest she has spent many hours laboring in the field. Ring had long been an admirer of Millet and may have referenced the figure of Ruth from Millet’s painting Harvesters Resting, on view nearby.

Collection of Ambassador John L. Loeb Jr. 2020.112

 

 

Jean-François Millet
French, 1814–1875

The Knitting Shepherdess, 1856–57
pastel

Millet often focused on shepherds
and shepherdesses in his paintings and drawings, as seen in this pastel. The shepherdess is shown engrossed in her knitting while her flock of sheep grazes among the trees behind her. This drawing also highlights Millet’s skill with pastels. He built up thick areas of pigment on the figure of the peasant girl, while using lighter, more delicate strokes of color on the leaves in the background.

Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of the
J. Lionberger Davis Art Trust 156:1953

 

 

Paul Gauguin
French, 1848–1903

The Breton Shepherdess, 1886
oil on canvas

A young shepherdess, shown seated on an outcropping, watches over her flock. Paul Gauguin used an abstract painting style to transform the figures of the people, animals, and landscape into flat, brightly colored decorative patterns. In this way, the painting relates to the works of Millet, who was often criticized for using a similar technique of simplified silhouetted forms. Gauguin admired Millet and seemed to identify with him as an artist who was misunderstood during his lifetime. Vincent van Gogh even wrote of Gauguin: “I feel he’s more Millet than I am…”

Laing Art Gallery, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums 2020.111

 

 

Jean-François Millet
French, 1814–1875

Vineyard Laborer Resting, 1869
pastel and black chalk on paper

In this large pastel, a peasant worker takes a break from his labor. He sits slumped in the field with his clogs tossed aside and his hoe resting beside him. Millet captured the utter exhaustion of the man, embodied by his empty, staring gaze. His open mouth and expression relate to Millet’s earlier painting Man with a Hoe, on view in the following gallery. Critics at the time attacked the picture, with one calling the laborer, portrayed authentically, “a savage beast.” This work was exhibited in Paris in 1875 and was widely reproduced in print and photographic form, making it accessible to numerous younger artists, including Vincent van Gogh and Camille Pissarro.

The Mesdag Collection, The Hague 2020.36

 

 

Jan Toorop
Dutch (born Java), 1858–1928

Resting Peasant, 1909
oil on board

Jan Toorop’s monumental peasant sits slouched in a field, as if momentarily resting from the day’s work. The painting relates to Millet’s Vineyard Laborer Resting, on view nearby. Like Millet, Toorop’s peasant is completely exhausted, clearly communicating the difficulty of his work. The resting figure contrasts with the vibrant color and active brushstrokes, reminiscent of Vincent van Gogh’s meditations on Millet’s paintings.

Museum Het Valkhof, Nijmegen, The Netherlands, acquired with support of Vereniging Rembrandt en Vereniging Vrienden van Museum Het Valkhof 2020.89

 

 


Gallery 244a

Millet and Van Gogh

In 1885, Vincent van Gogh wrote, “Millet is father Millet, counsellor and mentor in everything for young artists.” Van Gogh’s devotion to the work of Millet is perhaps most evident in his practice of making copies or variants, both drawings and paintings, based on the work of the older painter.

Between 1889 and 1890, during his time as a patient at the hospital of Saint-Rémy in Provence, Van Gogh produced 20 painted copies of work by Millet. For Van Gogh, these were an important exercise in painting the human figure at a time in his life when he had no access to live models. Van Gogh’s copies were based on black-and-white prints of Millet’s paintings rather than the pictures themselves. The younger artist produced 10 copies from prints of Work in the Fields and four ambitious and larger pictures from prints of Four Times of the Day.

Van Gogh saw his own paintings as imaginative works and described them as “translations in color.” They served as a focus for his continuing experimentation with coloristic effects. His brother, Theo, wrote in 1890, “The Millet copies are perhaps the finest thing you’ve ever done.” At times too, Van Gogh painted loose interpretations of subjects favored by Millet such as the constellations of the night sky.

 

 

Vincent van Gogh
Dutch, 1853–1890

The Thresher (after Millet), 1889
oil on canvas

A thresher uses a flail to separate the seeds from the stalks and ears of harvested wheat. This process was central to agricultural activity. In the years before mechanization, it took up to a quarter of male workers’ time during the harvest. Van Gogh’s colorful painting was based on a black-and-white print by Millet from the series Life in the Fields. Van Gogh made minor changes to the composition, as seen in the addition of a single rung on the ladder.

Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation) 2020.33

 

 

Jean-François Millet
French, 1814–1875

Shearing Sheep, 1852–53
oil on canvas

Millet depicted a young woman using shears to trim wool from a sheep as her male companion holds the animal down. The artist often focused on the central role of women in the production of wool, from the tending of flocks and sheep shearing, to carding (preparation of raw wool), spinning wool fiber into yarn, and knitting. This picture was exhibited at the 1853 Paris Salon and shows the jewel-like colors—blues, pinks, and reds—that Millet favored. He later produced a larger, close-up image of this scene on view at the beginning of this exhibition.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of Quincy Adams Shaw through Quincy Adams Shaw, Jr., and Mrs. Marian Shaw Haughton 2020.42

 

 

Vincent van Gogh
Dutch, 1853–1890

The Sheepshearers (after Millet), 1889
oil on canvas

Vincent van Gogh’s Sheepshearers was inspired by Millet’s composition of the same subject, on view alongside. Van Gogh wrote that his picture was painted “in a color scale ranging from lilac to yellow.” The red pigment in his paint mixture has faded, so now the effect is softer and cooler than it was originally.

Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation) 2020.32

 

 

Vincent van Gogh
Dutch, 1853–1890

Evening: The Watch (after Millet), 1889
oil on canvas

Vincent van Gogh’s luminous scene is a “translation into color” of Millet’s print, hung alongside. Both works feature a peasant family huddled around lamplight in the evening hours. In his evocation, Van Gogh chose tones of violet, lilac, and yellow, as the lamp throws long shadows over the rustic interior. He also picked up details such as the cat in front of the warm fire.

Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation) 2020.34

 

 

Jacques Adrien Lavieille
1818–1862
after Jean-François Millet
French, 1814–1875

Night, from the series
“The Four Times of The Day”, 1860
wood engraving

In this intimate, nocturnal scene, a rural family is gathered around the light from a lamp. The woman is sewing, the man is making a basket, and the child is sleeping in the crib. Millet’s subject emphasizes the continuation of rural labor into the night hours. The lamplight gives an almost sacred quality to the group and suggests that this scene may represent a contemporary portrayal of the Christian Holy Family: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Jacques Adrien Lavieille made this reproductive print based on Millet’s composition, and the image was published in the widely circulated newspaper L’Illustration in 1873.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of W. G. Russell Allen 2020.127

 

 

Vincent van Gogh
Dutch, 1853–1890

Starry Night, 1888
oil on canvas

In this scene, a glistening expanse of stars extends above the waters of the river Rhône at Arles in the south of France. Vincent van Gogh represented the constellation of the Big Dipper, or, in his words, “the Great Bear,” in this painting. Van Gogh emphasized the contrast between the bright yellows of the stars and the rich blues of the sky and river. A man and woman on the riverbank are thought to be lovers. Van Gogh shared Millet’s fascination with the night sky and probably saw Millet’s Starry Night, hung alongside, at Millet’s studio sale in Paris in 1875.

Musée d’Orsay, Paris, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Kahn-Sriber, in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Fernand Moch, 1975 2020.27

 

 

Jean-François Millet
French, 1814–1875

Starry Night, c.1850–65
oil on canvas

In this magical scene, Millet depicted a vast panorama of constellations, shooting stars, and planets. One art historian described the picture as the “most accurate depiction of a night sky painted in the nineteenth century.” A wagon is silhouetted on a rise at the top of a hill while two stars are reflected in puddles along the road. Millet read articles on astronomy and often took nighttime walks on the plain outside Barbizon, in north-central France.

Yale University Art Gallery, Leonard C. Hanna, Jr., Class of 1913, Fund 2020.44

 

 

Jean-François Millet
French, 1814 –1875

Man with a Hoe, 1860–62
oil on canvas

Millet evoked the utter exhaustion of a rural worker, who takes a moment to rest from his labor of clearing rocks and stones from the land. Describing this scene, Millet wrote, “the drama is surrounded by beauty.” The artist was referencing the details of natural beauty such as the purple thistle and dandelion at bottom left. This image was often exhibited and reproduced in the late 19th century and was well known by Vincent van Gogh.

The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 85.PA.114 2020.41

 

 

Jean-François Millet
French, 1814–1875

The Plain of Chailly with Harrow and Plough, 1862
oil on canvas

This winter scene shows the expansive plain where Millet frequently took walks from his nearby studio at Barbizon, in north-central France. Deserted farm implements are visible in the foreground while, in the distance, a flock of crows arc through the sky in flight. Millet devoted more than half of his composition to the rising land. One writer noted, “No painter, in any school, has pushed further the study and the art of foregrounds.” Another, Joris-Karl Huysmans, wrote in 1887, “For the majority of landscapists the earth is superficial: for Millet it has profundity.”

Belvedere, Vienna 2020.25

 

 

Vincent van Gogh
Dutch, 1853–1890

Snow Covered Field with a Harrow
(after Millet), 1890
oil on canvas

Here, Vincent van Gogh made an oil version of a black-and-white print of Millet’s composition Winter: The Plain of Chailly. Van Gogh loved wintry landscape effects and painted this work at Saint-Rémy, Provence, in January 1890 during a difficult time in his life. He probably saw an echo of his own personal loneliness in the desolate scene. The field and sky were originally a warmer purple-gray color but their red pigment has faded over time, leaving a dominant blue-green tone. Van Gogh probably also knew Millet’s related painting, hanging alongside.

Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation) 2020.35

 

André Antoine
French, 1858 –1943

La Terre, 1921
film extracts, looped, 51 seconds
footage from the Foundation J. Seydoux Pathé

Millet’s imagery had an impact not only on painters but also on filmmakers. André Antoine’s silent film La Terre owes a debt in its cinematography to the paintings of Millet, notably the poses and gestures of the characters. These three extracts show the ways in which Antoine drew on Millet’s images of the reaper, the midday rest, and the gleaners.

Before turning to cinema, Antoine was a noted actor, who produced plays with stage sets informed by Millet’s work. This film was based on Emile Zola’s realist novel La Terre published in 1887, which itself was indebted to the legacy of Millet.

 

 


Gallery 244b

Millet’s Drawings and Their Legacy

Drawing played a key role in Millet’s artistic practice, both as a precursor to his paintings and as stand-alone works of art. He made numerous preparatory studies for his paintings, in some cases executing dozens of compositional and figure drawings for the final work. During the 1850s, Millet enjoyed considerable success in selling drawings to Parisian collectors and art dealers, and he created many works with this market in mind.

Millet was particularly attracted to Conté crayon, a type of crayon made from mixing graphite and clay. Millet preferred it as a drawing medium over the more commonly used charcoal, as it better retained his gestural, expressive lines. By the 1860s, he incorporated color into his drawings, using pastel, a crayon made of powdered pigment. In some works, he included just a touch or highlight of color in an otherwise black-and-white image; in others, he would build up the entire image with layers of colorful hues.

Millet’s drawings, even more than his paintings, influenced numerous subsequent artists, including fellow Frenchmen Camille Pissarro, Georges Seurat, and Edgar Degas. These artists would have seen a wide range of Millet’s graphic work exhibited in the artist’s retrospective exhibition in 1887 and again at the 1889 Paris World’s Fair. Millet’s drawings were also often reproduced in the press and in photographs, which made them readily available to a broad audience.

 

 

Jean-François Millet
French, 1814–1875

Two Studies of a Female Nude, c.1846–48
chalk on paper

This drawing depicts two studies of one model shown in opposite poses. The image may represent Eve from the biblical Old Testament, as she reaches up to pluck the apple from the tree in the Garden of Eden. Foliage is suggested by the light, sketchy strokes of chalk just above the head of the figure at left. Millet’s early drawings like this one were often completed with heavily outlined forms, complemented by areas of slight shading. This drawing was once owned by Edgar Degas.

Musée d’Orsay, kept at the Musée du Louvre, Paris 2020.61

 

 

Jean-François Millet
French, 1814–1875

The Lovers, 1846/50
black crayon on buff wove paper with blue fibers

Millet frequently focused on images of nudes in his early works, such as this drawing illustrating a pair of lovers under a tree. Earlier artists often addressed the theme of lovers, and this scene may reference the tradition of depicting ancient Roman mythological couples such as Venus and Adonis. However, breaking with this convention, Millet’s figures are not represented as gods but rather as everyday people. This approach anticipated the artist’s interest in ordinary laborers from Barbizon just a few years later.

The Art Institute of Chicago, The Charles Deering Collection 1927.4434 2020.60

 

 

Jean-François Millet
French, 1814–1875

Peasants Digging for Potatoes, 1862–66
black chalk on paper

Man Harvesting Wheat, c.1850
black chalk on paper

Preparatory studies were part of Millet’s formal training, and his working method and style were considered radical and controversial even as a young art student. His figures were not idealized and were portrayed in sketchy, broken lines.

In Man Harvesting Wheat, Millet employed expressive contour lines to convey the man’s physical act of crouching down to gather armfuls of wheat. This study served as a preparatory drawing for a single figure in a subsequent multi-person painting. The later drawing, Peasants Digging for Potatoes, is a compositional study, probably for a painting that was ultimately never realized. The figures are clearly drawn and placed within a distinct setting.

Private Collection 2020.120,.121

 

 

Jean-François Millet
French, 1814–1875

The Carder, c.1854
crayon

In addition to his frequent depictions of peasants working in the fields, Millet often focused attention on domestic labor. This drawing features a woman carding—or separating and straightening—wool. Compared to some of Millet’s studies on view nearby, this example is much more detailed, as seen in the delicate strands of wool the woman is handling. Also unlike his quick, sketchy studies, this drawing was produced for the Parisian art market as a finished work of art.

Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William N. Eisendrath Jr. 1920:1981

 

 

Jean-François Millet
French, 1814 –1875

Women Carrying Faggots, c.1858
charcoal heightened with white gouache, charcoal border, on heavy laid gray blue paper

Women carrying massive bundles of sticks (known as faggots) emerge from a darkened wood. The dense gloom of the forest contrasts with the light-colored ground, which is covered in snow. Millet’s use of long, thin strokes of charcoal to depict the background mimics the thin sticks carried by the figures. Millet frequently represented this theme of “faggot gatherers”—women who were allowed into the forest of Fontainebleau, a royal hunting park near Paris, to collect sticks and pieces of wood for fuel at certain times of the year.

Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Robert Lehman Collection, 1975 (1975.1.671) 2020.57

 

 

Jean-François Millet
French, 1814–1875

The Washerwomen, c.1857– 60
crayon on paper

A pair of women crouch on the bank of a river, dipping clothes into the water and beating them. A third woman steps away from the water’s edge in the background. Millet transformed this common scene of rural women doing laundry into an abstract composition by making the figures little more than darkened silhouettes against the light water and sky. The artist was fascinated by the changing effects of evening light. He added highlights of white chalk for the moon and its reflection in the water.

Galerie Millet 2020.90

 

 

Jean-François Millet
French, 1814–1875

The Flight into Egypt, c.1864
black and brown Conté crayon, with pen and black ink and traces of black pastel, over gray washes, on cream wove paper, edge mounted on laminated woodpulp board

This remarkable drawing depicts the biblical scene of the flight into Egypt, when Joseph and Mary flee to Egypt with the infant Jesus. Millet transformed this Christian subject into something more radical by modeling the figures after contemporary peasants in working clothes, clogs, and shawls rather than ancient attire. Millet’s drawing technique was innovative as well, as he built up layers of Conté crayon, pastel, and ink washes to emphasize tonal variations rather than creating defined forms. The figures of Joseph, Mary, and the donkey appear as darkened silhouettes against a twilight sky, while Jesus is illuminated in Mary’s arms.

The Art Institute of Chicago, The Regenstein Collection, 1996.608 2020.48

 

 

Georges Seurat
French, 1859–1891

Peasants, 1881–84
Conté crayon on paper

Georges Seurat depicted two peasant figures standing in an open field in this drawing. Seurat’s use of Conté crayon, as well as his representation of textures and tones, relates to the innovative drawing technique of Millet, seen in the drawings on view nearby. Like Millet, Seurat used the crayon to create subtle contrasts of light and dark and to simplify his figures, showing them as flattened silhouettes against the background.

Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot (1876–1967), 1967 (67.187.34) 2020.91

 

 

Georges Seurat
French, 1859–1891

Landscape with Houses, 1881–82
Conté crayon

In this scene, Georges Seurat focused on a darkened field in the foreground, with several light-colored houses in the background. He concentrated on the underlying geometric structure of these forms, reducing them to basic flat shapes differentiated with the tone of the crayon. This technique of reductive abstraction and high contrast of light and dark derives from Millet’s Conté crayon drawings. Seurat owned several print reproductions of Millet’s drawings.

Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of WalterC.Baker,1971(1972.118.234) 2020.105

 

 

Georges Seurat
French, 1859–1891

The Nursemaid, 1882–83
Conté crayon on paper

Private Collection 2020.119

 

Woman Bending, Viewed from Behind, c.1885
black Conté crayon on cream laid paper

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Memorial gift from Dr. T. Edward and Tullah Hanley, Bradford, Pennsylvania 2020.108

 

The Barge, c.1882–83
Conté crayon on cream wove paper

Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Therese Kuhn Straus in memory of her husband, Herbert N. Straus, Harvard Classof1903 2020.92

 

These three works illustrate the most frequent subjects of Georges Seurat’s drawings from the 1880s: ordinary people and landscapes from the city and country. He has depicted scenes of daily life, featuring a nurse and child, a working woman, and a river view.

Seurat used contrasts of light and dark to distill the forms down to abstract patterns and geometric shapes. The nurse becomes a darkened column, offset by the baby’s white gown and the slight glow emanating from behind her. The bending woman is a simple silhouette against the light background. The river barge is reduced to a blackened mass in the lower left portion of the image. It is counterbalanced by an area of exposed white paper in the upper right, where moonlight cuts through the darkened sky. Seurat’s images of the everyday are both familiar and ambiguous.

 

 

Jean-François Millet
French, 1814 –1875

Landscape, Vichy, 1866–67
pen and brown (iron gall) ink with brown and green washes over graphite on laid paper

Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Gregoire Tarnopol, 1979, and Gift of Alexander Tarnopol, 1980 (1980.21.14) 2020.106

 

Road from Malavaux, near Cusset, 1867
watercolor and pen and brown ink over graphite pencil on dark cream laid paper

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of Martin Brimmer 2020.126

 

During the mid-1860s, Millet repeatedly traveled to Vichy in central France, where he made numerous ink-and-watercolor landscape studies like these. He was fascinated by the rolling hills of the environment and traveled around the region by carriage, stopping frequently to quickly create small sketches. Often he completed these works outdoors, although he sometimes added ink and color to the sketches later, back at his hotel. These two drawings illustrate Millet’s radical tendency to depict high horizon lines in his landscapes.

 

 

Camille Pissarro
French, 1830–1903

Flock of Sheep, Sunset, 1889
gouache on silk

Camille Pissarro created this luminous fan design in the pointillist style, a technique using small, distinct dots of color to form an image. The artist favored this approach in the late 1880s. This work also reflects Pissarro’s fascination with Millet’s pastels of dramatically sunlit and expansive plains often with high horizon lines. Pissarro saw examples of these at Millet’s 1887 retrospective exhibition in Paris. He wrote then that “certain drawings of Millet are a hundred times better than his painting, which has really dated.”

Colección Pérez Simón, Mexico 2020.100

 

 


Gallery 244c

Millet’s Nudes

Millet’s academic training at the École des Beaux-Arts (School of Fine Arts) in Paris provided him with an accomplished understanding of anatomy and the human form. The human body had been a principal subject for artists since the 15th- and 16th-century European Renaissance. In his early career, and particularly in the 1840s, Millet produced a large number of female nudes, generally for the Parisian art market, as a means of supporting his young family. At times, these works carried erotic meanings, as in the painting The Shooting Stars.

Millet depicted nude figures in a variety of poses, sometimes sitting or crouching, sometimes with extended and contorted forms. On rare occasions, he produced large-scale nudes such as Hagar and Ishmael, a work of considerable ambition that makes one wonder what else Millet might have achieved had he continued with this subject matter. In 1849, Millet moved to the village of Barbizon, 35 miles southeast of Paris, and he shifted his attention away from the nude and toward nature and rural subjects. However, as a fundamental aspect of his academic training, he continued to portray nudes intermittently.

Millet’s nudes influenced the Impressionists, a group of avant-garde French painters who used visible brushstrokes to represent light and movement. Most notably, Impressionist artist Edgar Degas collected Millet’s drawings. Degas’ work explored similarly unconventional poses and perspectives, although he typically situated his female nudes in an urban context.

 

Edgar Degas
French, 1834–1917

Breakfast after the Bath, 1894
charcoal and pastel on wove paper

In this image of private life, Edgar Degas portrayed a woman bending over, having just come out of the bath. Her maidservant brings her a cup of tea or chocolate. This intimate pose reflects Degas’ voyeuristic statement that he represented women “as if seen through a keyhole.”

Degas’ methods of mixing charcoal outlines and colored pastel hatchings suggest the impact of Millet. Techniques evident in Degas’ female nudes can be seen as a further development from those of the older artist.

Triton Collection Foundation 2020.124

 

 

Jean-François Millet
French, 1814–1875

These six images showcase Millet’s innovative treatment of the nude. The paintings highlight his interest in developing unconventional viewpoints, with figures often represented from below. The artist frequently depicted nudes in pastoral settings, bathing by the side of a river. Sometimes the figures are sitting, sometimes they are crouching. Their rich color and animated surfaces made them commercially successful on the Parisian art market in the 1840s. In the later The Goose Girl, Millet emphasized the rough hands and feet of the girl as evidence of her life of manual labor. On occasion, Millet illustrated literary imagery as in The Shooting Stars, inspired by Florentine poet Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. This work represents the lustful souls of Paolo Malatesta and Francesca da Rimini carried along by powerful winds.

Particularly notable among the images on view is Two Bathers, which was bought by the French State at Millet’s studio sale in 1875 following his death. This work was subsequently on view at the Luxembourg Museum, where it could have been seen by the Impressionists.

Millet painted a young peasant woman in Naked Peasant Girl Sitting on a Bank, who is trying to cool down by a stream. It was unusual at that time to depict an ordinary woman who was casually naked. Nudes were usually rendered in an idealized way, particularly within a biblical or historical context. Millet created a distinct contrast between Iight and dark by setting the woman’s white cap against the dark background. Her body shines in the sunlight as well.

 

Seated Nude, 1847–48
oil on canvas

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The Henry C. and Martha B. Angell Collection 2020.62

 

Two Bathers, 1848
oil on wood

Musée d’Orsay, Paris 2020.65

 

The Goose Girl, c.1863
oil on canvas

The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland 2020.66

 

The Shooting Stars, c.1847– 49
oil on panel

Ar fenthyg gan Amgueddfa Cymru- National Museum of Wales, Bequeathed by Gwendoline Davies, 1951 2020.59

 

The Bather, 1846/48
oil on wood

National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of R. Horace Gallatin, 1949.1.9 2020.64

 

Naked Peasant Girl Sitting on a Bank, 1847/48
oil on wood

Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau, Munich, Permanent loan from Christoph Heilmann Foundation 2020.63

 

 

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes
French, 1824–1898

Orpheus, 1883
oil on canvas

In this small painting, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes explored the narrative of Orpheus, a poet, musician, and prophet in ancient Greek mythology. Orpheus, sprawling in despair in a rocky landscape, mourns the loss of his wife, Eurydice. Puvis’ simplification of the figure, as well as the contorted pose, recalls Millet’s treatment of the human form in his paintings, notably Hagar and Ishmael, seen nearby. Puvis admired Millet and likely met him in the 1860s. His paintings were often compared to Millet’s for their rustic naturalism and religious virtue, with one contemporary critic calling Puvis “the Millet of grand art.”

Musée d’Orsay, Paris 2020.95

 

 

Jean-François Millet
French, 1814–1875

Hagar and Ishmael, 1848–49
oil on canvas

This massive painting depicts the biblical narrative of Hagar and her son Ishmael, who were cast out into the desert. Starving and exhausted, Hagar’s despair is palpable, as Ishmael, seen in a contorted pose in the background, is near death. Millet depicted the figures as flattened, elongated forms with strong outlines, differing from traditional, idealized nudes.

This painting was a commission from the French State in 1848, but Millet never completed it. Instead, it remained in his Barbizon studio for the rest of his life. The American painter Will H. Low, who visited Millet’s studio in 1873 and again in 1886, wrote that the artist kept the painting “as a warning against undue ambition.”

The Mesdag Collection, The Hague 2020.58

 

 

Frédéric Bazille
French, 1841–1870

Ruth and Boaz, c.1870
oil on canvas

Frédéric Bazille’s painting Ruth and Boaz is a dreamlike image of a young woman and an old man resting in an open field. The woman lies on her stomach, gazing up at the crescent moon above. The figures are depicted with strong outlines and an overall flatness that suggests the influence of Millet. Ruth’s slightly awkward pose recalls the figure of Hagar in Millet’s large painting on view nearby, though it is unlikely Bazille ever saw it. Bazille greatly admired Millet, writing about the “beautiful pictures” he saw on view at the Salon of 1869. Bazille was tragically killed in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, shortly after this painting was made.

Musée Fabre, Montpellier Méditerranée Métropole 2020.94

 

 

Ferdinand Hodler
Swiss, 1853 –1918

Portrait of Unknown Man, 1887
oil on canvas

Ferdinand Hodler represented a weary-looking worker seated in a nearly empty room. The frontal orientation and simple geometric framing of the figure within the background door call to mind the peasant imagery of Millet. Hodler came from a rural family, and as a young artist in the 1870s and 1880s, he was influenced by Millet’s straightforward yet heroic rural laborers. He made sketches of Millet’s works, and Hodler’s early figure paintings capture a similar monumentality to Millet’s imagery, as in The Peasant Family, on view nearby.

Kunsthaus Zürich, 1912 2020.116

 

 

Jean-François Millet
French, 1814–1875

The Peasant Family, 1871–72
oil on canvas

Millet depicted a peasant couple holding symbolic tools of their livelihood—a spade and spindle. Their young child seems almost to protect his parents. A mastiff dog is visible at back right. The picture is unfinished, with much of the underdrawing and underpainting visible, and it appeared in Millet’s studio sale in 1875, following his death. The figures face directly forward, and Millet used long rectangle, square, and oval forms to compose their bodies. This geometry later impacted the French painter Paul Cézanne.

Ar fenthyg gan Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum of Wales, Bequeathed by Gwendoline Davies, 1963 2020.69

 

 

Paul Cézanne
French, 1839–1906

Seated Peasant, 1900–04
oil on canvas

Paul Cézanne portrayed an unidentified peasant around Aix-en-Provence in the south of France. The man’s trunk-like legs, large hands, and cane lend a sense of monumentality to the picture. His head, in contrast, is relatively small. Cézanne offset the powerful vertical geometry of the figure by suggesting movement in the flame-like pattern on the wall behind. In his final years, Cézanne produced a large body of work focusing on rural laborers and proved himself a powerful inheritor of Millet’s radical tradition.

Musée d’Orsay, Paris 2020.70

 

 

Camille Pissarro
French, 1830 –1903

Peasant Girl with a Straw Hat, 1881
oil on canvas

From the 1870s, Camille Pissarro frequently engaged with Millet-like peasant subjects, as seen in this portrait of a young girl seated in a forest. She calls to mind Millet’s own images of resting shepherdesses, as seen earlier in this exhibition. Both artists were known to use non-professional peasant models, as may be the case here. Pissarro differed from Millet in his use of a light-filled palette and thicker touches of paint. This painting, as well as Washerwoman, Study, on view nearby, was shown at the seventh Impressionist Exhibition in 1882.

National Gallery of Art, Washington, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection, 1970.17.52 2020.68

 

 

Jean-François Millet
French, 1814–1875

The Knitting Lesson, 1869
oil on canvas

In this intimate interior scene, Millet presented a mother teaching her young daughter to knit a sock with four knitting needles. The models for the scene were Millet’s wife, Catherine Lemaire, and his six-year-old daughter, Marguerite. Knitting was a crucial part of women’s work in French rural communities. Millet exhibited this picture as his sole submission at the 1869 Paris Salon. The realism of his sitters with their tanned faces and chapped hands attracted controversy.

Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 106:1939

 

 

Camille Pissarro
French, 1830–1903

Washerwoman, Study, 1880
oil on canvas

In this study, Camille Pissarro represented a 56-year-old washerwoman, Marie Adeline Larchevêque. She lived in Pontoise, a town some 35 miles to the north of Paris and was a neighbor of the artist. Madame Larchevêque sits in a doorway, resting in the sunlight after her labors. Pissarro emphasized contrasts of complementary colors between blue and orange as well as yellow and violet. This picture was exhibited at the seventh Impressionist exhibition in 1882, when many critics compared Pissarro’s work to that of Millet. One critic, Alexandre Hepp, described Pissarro’s sitters as “true women of Millet.”

Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Nate B. Spingold, 1956 (56.184.1) 2020.67

 

 

Paula Modersohn-Becker
German, 1876–1907

Old Peasant Woman, c.1905
oil on canvas

In this painting, artist Paula Modersohn-Becker depicted an elderly woman from a poorhouse in Worpswede, a rural artists’ colony near Bremen, in northwest Germany. She wrote of the “great biblical simplicity of the peasants at Worpswede” and painted this woman with her arms folded in prayer and humility, reminiscent of the Christian Virgin Mary. Below her weathered hands, a tiny sprig of yellow flowers sits in her lap. The forgotten flowers may have symbolized the woman’s focus on spiritual matters over earthly ones. The religious overtones of this painting relate to the public perception of spiritual themes in Millet’s peasant paintings after his death in 1875.

Detroit Institute of Arts, Gift of Robert H. Tannahill 2020.97

 

 

Rural Portraits

One of the most notable aspects of Millet’s images of the countryside is his interest in capturing the essence of family life. He came from a large family of nine siblings, and he and his wife, Catherine Lemaire, had nine children: six girls and three boys.

Millet’s works reflect the importance of the family unit and the tenderness of family existance in a rural community. In developing his compositions, Millet used non-professional models of all ages, including his wife and children. Frequently, his work drew upon his memories of his upbringing in a stone cottage in a remote part of the Normandy coast.

Millet’s first-hand experience of rural family life lent his work an authenticity and intimacy that influenced the Impressionists, who also commonly chose to use non-professional models such as laborers and family members. While the atheist Camille Pissarro complained that Millet was “too biblical”, he was deeply affected by the older artist’s careful study of peasant customs. French painter Paul Cézanne described Millet as an artist who had started a “revolution” by “rediscovering nature.” Millet’s work also impacted international artists with a deep sensitivity to country life, including Italian Giovanni Segantini and German Paula Modersohn-Becker.

 

 

Jean-François Millet
French, 1814–1875

Woman Spinning, 1855–60
oil on panel

In this intimate scene, a young woman is absorbed in her work, spinning wool fiber into yarn. This activity was a key stage in the preparation of wool. It had very personal resonance for Millet since his earliest memory was of hearing his great-aunt spinning at the family house in Gruchy, in northern France. Hand spinning was an activity that faced increasing marginalization as a result of the rise of industrialized processes. Millet added color accents of red and purple to animate this scene.

Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA 2020.96

 

 

Max Liebermann
German, 1847–1935

Dutch Woman Making Lace, 1881
oil on canvas

Like Millet, Max Liebermann was fascinated with peasant subject matter. Here, he represented a Dutch lace maker, inspired by one of his many trips to the Netherlands. She is absorbed in her study in a way that recalls Millet’s related imagery of spinning. Liebermann described Millet as “the most epoch-making artist of modern painting.” Leibermann spent summers in Barbizon on two occasions: in 1874, when he may have met Millet, and again in 1875.

Hamburger Kunsthalle 2020.125

 

 

Giovanni Segantini
Italian, 1858 –1899

The Two Mothers, 1884–86
pastel and gouache on paper

In the twilight glow, a woman carries home her young child while a ewe alongside walks with her lamb. Giovanni Segantini was fascinated with connections between the human and animal world and here evoked the universality of motherhood. Like Millet, Segantini was a keen observer of evening light, which illuminates the backs of the sheep. Segantini described his work as “an art full of serenity and repose that would dispel darkness like the sun’s rays and replace it with light, life and love.”

The Mesdag Collection, The Hague 2020.93

 

 

Jean-François Millet
French, 1814–1875

Peasant and Donkey Returning Home at Dusk, c.1866–68
black Conté crayon and pastel on paper

In December 1866, Millet wrote of his efforts in this work to capture the “impression” of a sunset view outside Barbizon. Within the overall darkness, he added areas of bright yellow pastel at the horizon to signify the disappearing light. Elsewhere in his composition, Millet built up the texture of the land in dense hatchings to suggest the rough surface of the soil.

The Mesdag Collection, The Hague 2020.123

 

 


Gallery 246

Millet’s Landscapes and Their Impact

Millet was always interested in the careful study of nature, although he rarely painted outdoors, preferring to rely on drawings or on his exceptional memory. In the final decade of his life, Millet gave new attention to landscape painting, which became the focus for his experimentation. It was perhaps in these compositions that he most clearly broke with tradition and created innovative and radical compositions.

Millet’s landscapes contain expanses of land, sea, or sky dramatically cropped or with high horizon lines. He often gave more attention to grass and weeds in the sweeping foregrounds than he did to human figures. Millet concentrated on images of the plains around Barbizon. He also frequently depicted the Normandy coast and the rolling hills in Auvergne, in central France. This gallery includes the paintings Spring and Autumn from the artist’s Four Seasons series, the culmination of his landscape practice.

Millet’s late landscapes explore a multitude of light and atmospheric effects. They were widely exhibited in the late 19th century and were noticed by the Impressionists, especially Millet’s fellow Norman, the artist Claude Monet. A wide range of international artists responded to Millet’s imagery, including American painters such as George Inness and the Dutch artists of the Hague School. The latter group, who often painted en plein air (outdoors), in turn influenced Vincent van Gogh.

 

 

Jean-François Millet
French, 1814 –1875

Old House of Nacqueville, c.1871–72
oil on canvas

An old stone house dominates this composition. The building highlights Millet’s interest in the architecture and traditions of the past rather than more modern structures. The home was situated in the village of Nacqueville, near Millet’s birthplace of Gruchy, so he would have known the region well. Millet animated the scene with small details like the peasant woman chasing geese to the left of the house while chickens roam freely on the other side. The trees in the background are bent, suggesting a gust of wind, and the darkening clouds indicate the onset of a storm.

Private Collection 2020.101

 

 

Jean-François Millet
French, 1814–1875

In the Auvergne, 1866–69
oil on canvas

In this highly innovative composition, Millet devoted more than two-thirds of his canvas to a rising expanse of earth. In the foreground, he carefully represented thistles, stones, and weeds. Further back, a peasant girl guards her goats and spins yarn at the same time, which highlights the importance of women’s labor in the countryside. Her red shirt offers a bright color accent that complements the dominant greens of the picture. Millet visited the remote region of Auvergne in central France repeatedly in the mid-1860s.

The Art Institute of Chicago, Potter Palmer Collection, 1922.414 2020.47

 

 

Vincent van Gogh
Dutch, 1853 –1890

Vineyards at Auvers, June 1890
oil on canvas

Vincent van Gogh paid close attention to dynamic twisting grapevines and vibrant red poppies, portraying them here with his characteristic paint-heavy brushstrokes. The artist completed this picture in the town of Auvers in northern France, where Van Gogh lived for the final two months of his short life. Like his artistic hero Millet, Van Gogh emphasized vast open fields and a high horizon line. He was also drawn to the subject of old cottages, and he represented thatched roofs in the distance with repetitive, vertical lines in this work.

Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given by Mrs. Mark C. Steinberg 8:1953

 

 

Jean-François Millet
French, 1814–1875

Haystacks, 1867–68
pastel and black chalk on paper

Millet’s innovative approach to pastel is on full display in this drawing of haystacks in a field surrounded by grazing sheep. The village of Barbizon is in the distance. Millet used both black chalk and pastel, balancing the dark outlines with layers of colorful pigment. He also moistened and smudged the pastel in some areas. This work was one of a large number that Millet produced for Emile Gavet, a wealthy architect and art collector, in the late 1860s. Gavet’s patronage encouraged him to incorporate more color into his drawings.

The Mesdag Collection, The Hague 2020.72

 

 

Jean-François Millet
French, 1814 –1875

Haystacks: Autumn, c.1874
oil on canvas

Millet adapted this impressive picture from his pastel on view alongside. Though the subject matter changed little, Millet intensified the colors in the painting. He used a lilac ground for the canvas, which enhances the tones of the sky and the earth. Millet’s composition is dominated by the centrally placed mass of haystacks that he understood as the result of extensive human labor.This painting appeared in Millet’s Paris exhibitions in 1887 and 1889, and its use of triangle forms and changing light effects informed Claude Monet’s haystack paintings.

Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Lillian S. Timken, 1959 (60.71.12) 2020.71

 

Claude Monet
French, 1840–1926

The Haystack, c.1891
oil on canvas

Claude Monet’s painting shows a single haystack at sunset, as snow is starting to thaw. The village of Giverny, just outside of Paris, where Monet lived from 1883 to 1926, is in the background. The illuminated earth is represented in vibrant touches of pink, yellow, and orange and the shadows in front of the haystack in cooler blue. The picture is part of a series of around 20 works that showed haystacks at different times of day, from sunrise to sunset, and in different types of weather.

BogArt Collection Ltd. 2020.138

 

 

Claude Monet
French, 1840 –1926

The Gorge at Varengeville, 1882
oil on canvas

Claude Monet captured the stone cottage of a customs officer perched at cliff’s edge on the Normandy coast in northern France. Monet produced a series of paintings of this location in the early 1880s, including this one. The scene’s high horizon and plunging vista reveal the impact Millet’s marine pictures had on Monet, who knew them well. Both men came from Normandy and both shared a deep love of the sea. Monet once remarked of Millet: “I admired him so much.”

David and Mary Beth Shimmon 2020.110

 

 

Jean-François Millet
French, 1814–1875

The Cliffs of Gréville, 1871–72
oil on canvas

This expansive view represents the rugged coastline on the Normandy coast, where Millet grew up. It is notable for its lively range of color, from the turquoise and blues in the water to the greens and browns of the earth. The picture evokes the massed clouds and changing light typical of the shore. Millet’s radicalism is evident in his willingness to leave his underdrawing visible. The artist’s friend Charles Tillot described this work as the “crowning” of the artist’s landscape efforts.

Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, Elisabeth H. Gates Fund, 1919 2020.75

 

 

Claude Monet
French, 1840 –1926

Gorge of the Petit Ailly, Varengeville, 1897
oil on canvas

After a gap of roughly 15 years, Claude Monet returned to the motif of the cliffs and customs house at Varengeville in the mid-1890s. In this picture, he placed a greater emphasis on decorative surface pattern. Monet’s composition suggests a continuing debt to Millet, but Monet’s lighter palette illustrates the distance now between him and the older master. Monet favored blonder and paler colors, eliminating those bituminous rich brown earth tones that had been favored by Millet.

Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Ella Milbank Foshay 2020.103

 

 

George Inness
American, 1825 –1894

After a Summer Shower, 1894
oil on canvas

A pair of rainbows arc over a verdant landscape recently watered by rain. This composition, with a receding path, twisting tree, and transient light effect, is very similar to Millet’s picture alongside, which George Inness could have seen while visiting Paris in 1894. Inness was a longtime admirer of Millet, whom he probably met when he visited Barbizon in the 1850s. He described Millet as “one of those artistic angels whose aim was to represent pure and holy sentiments.” Both artists shared a belief in a spiritual underpinning to the natural world.

The Art Institute of Chicago, Edward B. Butler Collection 1911.29 2020.102

 

 

Jean-François Millet
French, 1814–1875

Spring, between 1868–73
oil on canvas

This luminous view shows the fleeting effect of two rainbows after a storm. The muddy track sprinkled with spring flowers leads the eye into the composition and toward a single figure sheltered beneath a tree. Millet contrasted the cultivated orchard area, enclosed by a fence in the middle ground, with the distant trees of the forest. This painting entered the Luxembourg Museum, the French national museum of contemporary art, in 1887, where it undoubtedly influenced an international range of artists.

Musée d’Orsay, Paris, bequest of Mrs. Frédéric Hartmann, 1887 2020.29

 

Willem Roelofs
Dutch, 1822–1897

The Rainbow, 1875
oil on canvas

Willem Roelofs illustrated a dramatic rainbow after a passing storm. The sunburst highlights expansive fields while a cowherd moves cattle down the road in the foreground. Roelofs was a member of the Hague School, a collective of Dutch artists who often painted en plein air (outdoors). He visited Barbizon in the 1850s and, like Millet, was fascinated with capturing changes in light and atmosphere. This picture is reminiscent of Millet’s Spring, on view alongside, although it is uncertain if Roelofs ever saw it.

Kunstmuseum Den Haag, The Hague, The Netherlands 2020.74

 

 

 


Gallery 247

The Angelus

The Angelus, a meditative view of a man and woman at prayer in a partially harvested field, on view in this gallery, is probably Millet’s best-known picture. It was the most expensive painting of its time when it sold at auction in 1889, and the American Art Association in New York paid a record-breaking amount for it. Within a year, The Angelus was bought by the prominent French collector Alfred Chauchard, who later bequeathed it to the Louvre Museum in 1909. Today, it is in the collection of the Musée d’Orsay.

In France, the picture became a symbol of national pride by the late 19th century. Images of The Angelus were widely reproduced in books, newspapers, prints, and photographs. It embodied a vision of piety and devotion, fruitful land and dignity of labor, and played a major role in the mythmaking related to Millet after his death in 1875.

Numerous artists across Europe, North America, and Asia responded to Millet’s painting. Among these were the Italian Giovanni Segantini, the Norwegian Edvard Munch, and the Russian Natalia Goncharova. It was the Spanish Surrealist, Salvador Dalí, who most obsessively engaged with it. Dalí developed a highly personal interpretation of The Angelus, which he described as “the most troubling of pictorial works, the most enigmatic, the most dense, the richest in unconscious thoughts that had ever existed.” He argued that it represented a peasant couple mourning the death of their son and was encoded with symbols of sexual aggression.

 

 

Jean-François Millet
French, 1814–1875

The Sheepfold, Moonlight, 1856–60
oil on panel

A shepherd gathers his flock into a temporary pen by the light of the gibbous moon, or a moon that is more than half-full. The figures are reduced to darkened and abstracted silhouettes—a trait that was widely admired by successive artists. The evening hours were of great interest to Millet, who carefully studied the night sky to accurately depict moonlight effects. He noted, “Oh, how I wish I could make those who see my work feel the splendors and terrors of the night!..they should feel the infinite.” The French art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel considered this picture and The Angelus to be Millet’s “two masterpieces.”

The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland 2020.46

 

 

George Inness
American, 1825–1894

Moonrise, 1888
oil on canvas

The glow of the moon and its reflection on a pond illuminate this twilight landscape by George Inness. Inness used tonal values to suggest forms, like the tree-lined horizon or the boat on the water, rather than striving for photographic representation of the scene. His treatment of the landscape, especially his focus on the effects of moonlight, relates to Millet’s own landscape paintings, such as The Sheepfold, Moonlight, on view nearby.

Guild Hall Museum, East Hampton, New York 2020.98

 

 

Paula Modersohn-Becker
German, 1876–1907

Landscape with Moon, c.1900
oil on cardboard

In this luminous image, Paula Modersohn-Becker represented expansive fields in radically flat bands of color. While many of her contemporaries at the artists’ colony in Worpswede, Germany, focused on detailed observation of nature, Modersohn-Becker simplified her imagery. She preferred to use roughly applied colors and compressed space to emphasize the two-dimensionality of her designs. Landscape took on a quasi-spiritual significance for Modersohn-Becker, and like Millet’s landscape paintings, her works convey the power and majesty of nature.

Paula-Modersohn-Becker-Stiftung, Bremen 2020.99

 

 

Edvard Munch
Norwegian, 1863–1944

Fertility, 1899–1900
oil on canvas

A visibly pregnant woman stands with a basket of cherries to the left of a large tree in a verdant green landscape. To the right, a man sits slumped slightly forward, as though resting from his work. The figures take on a semi-biblical meaning, as though they are the Christian Adam and Eve before the Tree of Life, and the scene suggests the unity of humans and nature. Edvard Munch’s composition was informed by Millet’s The Angelus, on view nearby, and his spiritual reading of nature was also closely connected to that of Millet.

Canica Art Collection, Oslo, on loan to the Van Gogh Museum 2020.40

 

 

Natalia Goncharova
Russian, 1881–1962

Planting Potatoes, 1908–09
oil on canvas

Natalia Goncharova focused on images of peasant life and culture, such as this painting of women planting potatoes. She drew inspiration not only from scenes depicting rural labor but also from the art of the peasants themselves, including embroidery and textiles, wood carving, and icons. A leading avant-garde Russian painter in the early 20th century, Goncharova’s use of strong lines and vivid colors derives from this folk art tradition and was also inspired by recent French painting. She would have been aware of Millet’s peasant pictures, which were well known in Russia and were exhibited there in 1896 and 1897.

Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain, Strasbourg 2020.118

 

 

Salvador Dalí
Spanish, 1904–1989

Gala and the Angelus of Millet Immediately Preceding the Arrival of the Conic Anamorphoses, 1933
oil on wood

In this dreamlike image, Salvador Dalí reproduced Millet’s The Angelus above the doorway. Just inside the door, a bald man, identified as the Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, sits across the table from a smiling Gala, Dalí’s wife. Above them on a ledge are plaster busts, including a portrait of André Breton, the leader of the Surrealists, artists who explored the unconscious. Behind the open door lurks a figure with a lobster on his head; this represents the Russian writer Maxim Gorky. All of these people were important figures in Dalí’s life and psyche and create a deeply personal symbolism within this painting.

National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Purchased 1975 2020.26

 

 

Salvador Dalí
Spanish, 1904 –1989

Meditation on the Harp, c.1933
oil on canvas

Adapted from the figures in Millet’s The Angelus, this painting shows the male laborer with his head bowed and holding his hat while the female peasant is nude and embracing her husband. The strange kneeling figure with conical head and hornlike foot represents the couple’s dead son. Dalí believed the setting for Millet’s The Angelus was a child’s grave with a basket nearby. An X-ray showed an area of overpainting in Millet’s work that, for Dalí, confirmed this theory. Dalí’s painting illustrates his Surrealist approach with an oedipal triangle: the mother’s incestuous desire for the son is suggested by her nudity, and the father’s bowed head indicates his shame rather than his piety.

The Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida; Gift of A. Reynolds & Eleanor Morse 2020.115

 

 

Salvador Dalí
Spanish, 1904 –1989

Portrait of Gala, 1935
oil on wood

This double portrait illustrates two views of Salvador Dalí’s wife, Gala, seen from the front and back. Gala facing away is seated on a box, while Gala facing the viewer is on a wheelbarrow. The wheelbarrow comes from the modified version of The Angelus hanging on the wall above Gala’s head. In this altered painting, Dalí has made the peasant woman larger in scale, and she has adopted a threatening pose; Dalí compared her to a praying mantis about to devour her mate. Reflecting his Surrealist interest in the human subconscious, Dalí attached a psychosexual reading to The Angelus and focused on fear and violence.

The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, 1937 2020.45

 

 

Giovanni Segantini
Italian, 1858–1899

Ave Maria Crossing the Lake, 1890–92
black Conté crayon and pencil, white highlights, on blue green rag paperboard

Giovanni Segantini illustrated a shepherd with his sheep in a small boat crossing a lake in northern Italy. A woman and her child huddle among the animals. The man has momentarily stopped rowing, as both he and the woman bow their heads, saying the Christian Ave Maria (Hail Mary) prayer. Segantini’s skillful depiction of light and dark is masterfully on display, with the sun illuminating the image through its reflection on the water. Millet’s praying figures in The Angelus, on view nearby, inspired this drawing.

Segantini Museum, St. Moritz, Switzerland 2020.113

 

 

Jean-François Millet
French, 1814 –1875

The Angelus, between 1857–59
oil on canvas

Two peasants stop to say the Angelus prayer at dusk in response to the sound of church bells from the distant steeple. They are in the midst of the potato harvest, and the man has placed his fork to one side. The woman devoutly worships; the man may be turning his hat, waiting for her to finish. The Catholic Angelus prayer, commemorating the Incarnation of Jesus, was said three times a day: 6 am, noon, and 6 pm. The prayer was a vital way of regulating time in the countryside in the days before wristwatches.

Musée d’Orsay, Paris, bequest of Alfred Chauchard, 1910 2020.28

 

 

Jan Toorop
Dutch (born Java), 1858–1928

Broek in Waterland, 1889
oil on canvas

Dutch artist Jan Toorop often depicted sympathetic views of laborers. In this painting, he represented a beautiful marshy landscape near Amsterdam with a peasant couple gliding through the water on a small boat. The figures are shown with bowed heads, suggesting they may be praying, much like the figures in Millet’s The Angelus nearby. Like Millet, Toorop captures the serenity of the evening and the piety of the workers in this solemn image.

Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, Gift in memory of Robert S. Ashby by his family and friends, 2000.156, DiscoverNewfields.org 2020.104

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