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  • Jean-Francois Millet
    Oct 4, 1814 - Jan 20, 1875
  • The Angelus - Jean-François Millet was a French painter and one of the founders of the Barbizon school in rural France. Millet is noted for his scenes of peasant farmers; he can be categorized as part of the naturalism and realism movements. As a painter of melancholy scenes of peasant labor, he has been considered a social realist. Millet's paintings are noted for their power and simplicity of drawing.
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The Angelus
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  • The Angelus

  • Jean-Francois Millet
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  • 1857-59
    Oil on canvas
    55.5 x 66 cm
    Musée d'Orsay, France.

    The Angelus (Latin for Angel) is a Christian devotion in memory of the Incarnation. The name Angelus is derived from the opening words: Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mari? and is practiced by reciting as versicle and response three Biblical verses describing the mystery; alternating with the salutation "Hail Mary!" The devotion was traditionally recited in Roman Catholic churches, convents, and monasteries three times daily: 6:00 am, noon, and 6:00 pm (many churches still follow the devotion, and some practice it at home). The devotion is also used by some Anglican and Lutheran churches. The Angelus is usually accompanied by the ringing of the Angelus bell, which is to spread good-will to everyone on Earth. The angel referred to in the prayer is the Angel Gabriel, a messenger of God who revealed to Mary that she would conceive a child to be born the Son of God. (Luke 1:26-38).

    Millet's work is distinguished by an absolute truthfulness to Nature which was the guiding principle of his life. He saw the peasant bent at his work in the fields, and he pictured him in all his gaunt poverty and weariness, while he invested him, by his inspired vision, with the symbolic dignity of labor. Thus, in painting life, Millet reveals the sublime in the commonplace, the promise hidden in the pain, and the mercy that hovers over sorrow.

    "The Angelus" completes a series of three pictures by Millet which are considered his masterpieces. "The Sowers" typifies the laborer going forth bearing good seed with him "The Gleaners" shows the end of the harvest which has supplied the people's wants and left something over for the needy. "The Angelus" depicts the laborers' thanks for the gift of plenty.

    The last picture is the most popular of all the works of this artist, and it expresses in full measure the simplicity and devoutness of his nature. His wish was to make the spectator realize the vesper hour, when the soft chimes call the toiler to thankful rest. The man and the woman have worked well, as their full sacks bear witness, and they are bending their heads in gratitude to their Creator for His gifts. On a small canvas, twenty-five inches long and twenty-one inches high, the painter has created a scene that is at once a prayer and an inspiration, which will hold its strong appeal as long as the colors last.

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Other paintings by Jean-Francois Millet:

Summer, the Gleaners
Summer, the Gleaners
Susanna and the Elders
Susanna and the Elders
The Baby's Cereal
The Baby's Cereal
The Bather
The Bather
Jean-Francois MilletJean-François Millet, who settled in Barbizon late in 1849, was born into a farming family. Trained with an academic painter in Paris, Millet devoted his early work to portraits and erotic nudes. He was sensitive to the changes brought about by the increasing urbanisation and industrialisation of France, and he was particularly inspired by the social issues raised by the Revolution of 1848. Thereafter he turned to scenes of peasants labouring, endowing them with heroic form adapted from the art of the past.

Unprecedented in French art, such works by Millet as The Sower were particularly controversial in the political climate of the time. Powerful and monumental, Millet's sower strides across a newly plowed field with energy and resolution, scattering the seeds for a new crop; he serves as an emblem of regeneration and of the elemental relationship between man and nature. Crude in appearance, the work provoked commentary not only on its subject matter but also on its styles and unorthodox technique. Théophile Gauteier, a famous nineteenth-century critic working for a government newspaper, noted that Millet "trowels on top of his dishcloth of a canvas, without oil or turpentine, vast masonries of coloured paint so dry that no varnish could quench its thirst". Political conservatives, who viewed the peasants as a potentially disruptive social element, attacked Millet, while liberals praised his ennoblement of rural life.

A nostalgia for an existence that was a dying phenomenon eventually made Millet's works some of the most famous images of their day. His paintings were exhibited widely, and he was revered on both sides of the Atlantic.

When Millet died in 1875, he was buried at Barbizon, next to Théodore Rousseau.