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Pittore e contadino: Jean Francois Millet

Painter and farmer: Jean Francois Millet


On October 4, 1814, two poor Normandy peasants, Nicolas and Adelaide Millet, gave birth to a beautiful child whom they named Jean Francois.

Working student

Jean Francois prematurely demonstrated his artistic talent and, despite the scarce economic possibilities, his parents entrusted him to some private tutors.

He continued his studies in Cherbourg where in 1833 the portrait painter Paul Dumochel accepted him as his pupil.

Jean Francois studies diligently, but divides his time between the painting and work in the fields alongside his parents. He works hard, like all the farmers of those times, for his choice and for gratitude.

The commitment paid off and in 1837 Millet won a scholarship and moved to Paris to attend the Ecole des Beaux Arts. He made his debut at Salòn as early as 1839.

What do we paint of?

The following year he returns to Cherbourg and meets his soulmate: Pauline Ono. He marries immediately and is happy. Fate, after three years, provides to throw Millet into deep pain, because his beloved wife dies prematurely.

The provincial market offers Jean Francois only the possibility of some portraits and some mythological commissions and, since Millet must live, he accepts these works.

In 1847 Millet befriends some of his colleagues from Barbizon. Together they will form the first nucleus of the "Barbizon School".


It's up to the farmers

Together with Theodore Rosseau, Camille Corot, Jules Dupré and others, the Barbizon school intends to pursue realism. Their meeting place is not a café in Montmartre or the festive and libertine Parisian atmosphere, but a spartan hotel called "père Ganne".

Here their subjects of study are fields, peasants at work, herds, flocks with the careful chromatic experimentation of the articulation of branches and leaves, fields and the contrasts of light of the various hours of the day.


I stay here

This is the work in tune with the sensitivity of Millet, who is a farmer after all, and this pushes him to move permanently to Barbizon, also thanks to a small sum allocated by the state in its favor.

And in this village his masterpieces were born: "The gleaners", "The angelus", "The sower".

His works are successful at the Salòn which will host them for almost twenty years.


My sad and sweet dream

These paintings, which could not garner criticism from a technical point of view, did not fail to tickle harsh comments from conservative critics.

For them the "authorized" subjects can be mythological, historical or "rich people". Why smear canvases with portraits of the sub-proletariat?

For the republicans and the critics of the "left" the evaluation is exactly the opposite and this "realist" painting can only receive open applause.


Millet himself writes:

“What I know most joyfully is this calm, this silence which one rejoices so intimately in the woods or on the plowed fields. You will tell me that this speech is very dreamy, of a sad dream, although certainly very sweet, but it is there, in my opinion, that we find true humanity, great poetry ”.

And this jovial and simple "big man", when he lives in Barbizon, becomes severe in Paris and assumes a doctoral demeanor, because outside his natural environment he gets anxious and gives himself a demeanor.

Millet died in his 60s on January 20, 1875.


The great poetry of his paintings it became the absolute textbook from which Seurat, Segantini, Pissarro and a passionate young man named Vincent Van Gogh learned.

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