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Jean-François Millet

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Jean-François Millet (October 4, 1814 – January 20, 1875) was a French painter and one of the founders of the Barbizon school in rural France. He is noted for his scenes of peasant farmers. He can be categorized as part of the movement termed "naturalism", but also as part of the movement of "realism".

Born in the village of Gruchy, in Gréville-Hague (Normandy), Millet moved to Paris in 1838. He received his academic schooling with Paul Dumouchel, and with Jérome Langlois in Cherbourg. After 1840 he turned away from the official painting style and came under the influence of Honoré Daumier. In 1849 he withdrew to Barbizon to apply himself to painting many, often poetic, peasant scenes.

One of the most well known of Millet's paintings is The Gleaners (1857), depicting women stooping in the fields to glean the leftovers from the harvest, is a powerful and timeless statement about the working class. The Gleaners is on display in Paris's Musée d'Orsay.

Picking up what was left of the harvest was regarded as one of the lowest jobs in society. However, Millet offered these women as the heroic focus of the picture; previously, servants were depicted in paintings as subservient to a noble or king. Here, light illuminates the women's shoulders as they carry out their work. Behind them, the field that stretches into the distance is bathed in golden light, under a wide, magnificent sky. The forms of the three figures themselves, nearly silhouetted against the lighter field, show balance and harmony.


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