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Jean-François Millet

October 4, 1814 - January 20, 1875


Jean-François Millet is best known for his foundation of the Barbizon school of painters and his scenes of French peasant life that showed peasantry in a Biblical or allegorical light. Jean-François Millet was born on October 4, 1814, in the French village of Gruchy to members of the peasant community and spent his youth working on the land. In 1833 he was sent to Cherbourg to study painting, and by 1837 he moved to Paris to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts under Paul Delaroche. His first painting accepted at the Salon was a portrait; Jean-François Millet would continue to specialize in portraiture in coming years. In the mid-1840s, he developed friendships with several artists who would later be associated with the Barbizon school, especially admiring Honoré Daumier. In 1849, Millet moved from Paris to Barbizon, where the peasant and the farmer became the primary focus of his work, which they would remain for the rest of his life. In 1870 he was elected to the Salon jury, but his health began to fail. Despite his financial success, he began to be unable to meet government commissions. In 1875, he married Catherine, his long-time mistress and mother to his children. He died seventeen days later, on January 20, 1875. Jean-François Millet was instrumental to both the naturalist and realism movements, but he is perhaps best-known for his highlight and romanticization of rural life. He was one of the largest influences on Vincent Van Gogh. Though he idealized peasant life, his work is most lauded for depth of feeling, layers of nostalgia, and honesty that his paintings come to possess.

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