Jean François Millet
The French painter and graphic artist Jean François Millet was born in Gruchy (Normandy), on 4th October 1914. Between 1834 and 1836, Millet studied under the tutelage of portrait painters Bon du Mouchel (1807-46) and Lucien-Théophile Langlois (1803-45). In 1835, he began studying in Cherbourg, but in the following year, received community scholarship to study in Paris, where he attended the Ècole des Beaux-Arts. From 1837, Jean François Millet trained in Paul Delaroche’s (1797 – 1856) studio, and executed his first oil paintings during this period. After failing to win the "Prix de Rome", Millet returned to Cherbourg for two years, where he worked as a portrait artist, painting the local people.
In 1840, his work was represented at the Paris Salon for the first time. In the period leading up to 1848, he had his first Salon success with the painting "The Winnowers". He also executed his first pastoral landscapes, nudes, and historical paintings. From 1850, the artist lived in Barbizon, which became his second home, where he discovered the magical atmosphere of the wide fields and steaming farmland. This area and its inhabitants became the inspiration for his sowers and ploughmen, his wood cutters and twig collectors, shepherds and corn gleaners. Alongside Théodore Rousseau (1812 – 67) and Jean Baptiste Camille Corot (1796 – 1875), Millet was the most famous representative of the "Barbizon School". In 1850, Millet met Alfred Sensier (1815 – 77) who would later write his biography, with whom he made a contract. Sensier subsequently provided the artist with painting materials and money, and Jean François Millet supplied him with paintings and drawings in return. Sensier acted as an agent for Millet, selling his work to private individuals and art dealers. In the Salon of 1850/51, the artist established himself as the most important exponent of realism, alongside Gustave Courbet (1819 – 77).
In the mid-1860s, Millet began building up his own art collection, which comprised mainly of graphic works and drawings. He began buying Japanese woodcuts. In 1864, he purchased drawings from Eugène Delacroix’s (1789 – 1863) estate, and paintings by Rousseau, following the artist’s death. He also bought medieval Northern prints by Dürer, Holbein and Breugel.
In 1867, during the World Exhibition in Paris, Jean François Millet’s held his first retrospective exhibition. The following year, he was made a knight of the legion D’honneur, on art critic Louis Silvestre’s recommendation, and an honorary member of the "Société libre des Beaux-Arts" in Brussels. The artist also developed an interest in El Greco (1541 – 1614), and in 1869 purchased "Saint Ildefonso". In 1874, Jean François Millet received his first official commission, decorating the chapel in the Paris Panthéon, with a cycle from the life of Saint Genevieve. This, however, remained unfinished.
Jean François Millet died in Barbizon on 20th January 1875.