“TO TELL the truth, the peasant subjects suit as there were no painters who studied paintings that focused on people.This quote by Jean-François Millet best portrays what Millet was trying to convey through his paintings. Born in the 19C, Millet concentrated on not only the nature surroundings in peasants’ working life, but also in the details of people. It was an unusual phenomenon at that time in the artistic community as there were no painters who studied paintings that focused on people.
Bicentennial anniversary of Jean-François Millet
The year 2014 was Millet’s 200th birthday. To celebrate his birth, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston has put in four years of extensive research and planning into the exhibition. Now the Museum of Fine Art, Boston owns 170 works of Millet, including paintings, prints and drawings, and it is one of the few museums in the world that owns so many of Millet’s artwork. This exhibition in Korea is the finale of “Millet, Barbizon and Fontainebleau” which has been showcased throughout North America and Japan. The notable point about this exhibition is that it displays the most cherished works of Millet, The Sower, Potato Planters, Harvesters Resting (Ruth and Boaz) and Young Shepherdess at the same place for the first time.
Jean François Millet was born in a farmhouse in Normandy, France. Later in 1849, to escape the political turmoil and the spread of Cholera, Millet and his family relocated to Barbizon, a small village near Fontainebleau forest located 30 miles away from Paris. His new life in Barbizon and the landscape of Fontainebleau inspired him to change the subjects of his painting to the peasants’ working life and the natural surroundings. According to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston,“His mood, style, and subject matter influenced the next generations and began a shift into this category in which the Impressionist painters continued.” This exhibition is composed of five parts: Introduction to the Master, Forest of Fontainebleau, Village of Barbizon, Domestic Interiors and The Legacy of Millet.
Barbizon & Fontainebleau
Barbizon was a small, unknown village until the arrival of Millet and his family. Since then, however, Barbizon School was created and it strongly influenced modern art. In the 1820s, landscape gained momentum as an independent category of oil painting. Artists were finding new locales and inspirations for sketching and painting in a naturalistic and realistic manner. Before its advent, historical facts, the Bible and sanctified figures were the main subjects of traditional painting. The creation of Barbizon School dramatically severed such existing subjects. Barbizon School focused on agriculture, peasants and realistic portrayals of beautiful sceneries of 19C France. Along with Millet’s paintings, the exhibition also showcased artworks of other painters who belong to Barbizon School: Théodore Rousseau, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Emile Charles Lambinet and Charles-François Daubigny.“As Barbizon School broke the traditional ideology of nature and expressed it as realistically as possible, it gave birth to Impressionism.”Through the paintings, the peasants and their realistic life were improved compared to the past when the peasants were looked down on.
Four remarkable artworks
Among the four major works of Millet, The Sower is the first major work that you can encounter in the exhibition. This painting granted significance to the ordinary man working on the field, portraying a heroic figure with an appropriate air of dignity. By the time this masterpiece was painted, the February Revolution made it possible for every man in Paris to have universal suffrage. Thus many observers made the assumption that Millet provided an image for the revolution through the peasant whose facial features were unclearly drawn to represent peasantry. Leathery dark skin of the sower indicates a life spent toiling under the sun while sowing seeds in a muddy field, painted with dark tones and coarse brushstrokes.
To the left side of The Sower hangs Young Shepherdess. Before this painting, only the queens and goddesses were painted largely. However, here a shepherdess is painted in a monumental size, the largest among all the figures in Millet’s painting, which provides dominance over the viewer. Apart from this fact, there is a more significant characteristic of this painting that the viewers might want to know. This artwork was painted during the Franco-Prussian war, which prevented Millet to obtain art supplies and thus made him paint over used canvases.
The third major work is Harvesters Resting (Ruth and Boaz). This ambitious canvas is another example of a serene composition of heroic peasants. The double title of his painting refers to Millet’s conception of the Biblical scene from the Book of Ruth in the Old Testament. The woman in blue at the left is Ruth and the man next to her is Boaz. Other peasants in the painting all have different but realistic postures as Millet practiced painting a lot for this single painting. In this painting, Millet merged his past traditional talents in history painting and portraiture with his new tendency: his penchant for realism and heightening of the peasant’s role.
Finally, Potato Planters is displayed in the third part. A farming couple works in unison to plant potatoes without the help of livestock. Their crop, potatoes, was considered as animal feed at that time. From these facts, one can infer that they were suffering under great poverty. With the use of light coming from the backside, Millet tried to emphasize that the work of potato plants should not be considered as less noble than any other activity. Overall, the paintings of Millet changed the portrayal of 19C France to be much more realistic.
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From this exhibition one can see the way Millet viewed the lives of peasants, who were less privileged during that time. Unlike most of the other painters, Millet focused on the peasants’ existence and thought highly of them. By enjoying the exhibition and empathizing with the paintings of Millet, visitors will be able to pay close attention to the less privileged of our own society and extend a warm helping hand to them.
- Price: \14,000
- Place: SOMA (Seoul Olympic Museum of Art, located at Olympic Park)