Thursday, January 19, 2012

Millet, Jean-Francois

Shepherdess with Her Flock
Oil on canvas
32 x 39 3/4 in. (81 x 101 cm)
Musee d'Orsay, Paris

Jean Francois Millet was born into a family of peasant farmers near Cherbourg. He was the first painter to endow rural life with a dignity and monumentality that transcend realism, making the peasant an almost heroic figure.

Calm, serenity and harmony triumph in this painting. Wearing a woollen cape and a red hood, the young shepherdess (perhaps the painter's own daughter) is standing in front of her flock. She is knitting, looking down at her work. In a monotonous landscape stretching, unbroken, to the horizon, she is alone with her animals. The flock forms a patch of undulating light, reflecting the rays of the setting sun. The scene is an admirable mixture of accuracy and melancholy. Millet observed the minutest details, like the small flowers in the foreground. He makes use of the perfect harmony of blues, reds and golds.

He never painted out-of-doors, and he had only a limited awareness of tonal values. Often accused of socialism because of his chosen subject, he was recognized as an important and original artist only after his death.
"To tell the truth, the peasant subjects suit my temperament best; for I must confess, even if you think me a socialist, that the human side of art is what touches me most." (Millet)