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  • Jean-Francois Millet
    Oct 4, 1814 - Jan 20, 1875
  • Bergers d'Arcadie - 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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Bergers d'Arcadie
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  • Bergers d'Arcadie

  • Jean-Francois Millet
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  • 1842-1843
    Oil on canvas
    Musée Thomas-Henry, Cherbourg-Octeville.

    Arcadia is an actual region of Greece, a series of valleys surrounded by high mountains and therefore difficult of access. In very ancient times, the people of Arcadia were known to be rather primitive herdsmen of sheep, goats and bovines, rustic folk who led an unsophisticated yet happy life in the natural fertility of their valleys and foothills. Soon, however, their down-to-earth culture came to be closely associated with their traditional singing and pipe playing, an activity they used to pass the time as they herded their animals. Their native god was Pan, the inventor of the Pan pipes (seven reeds of unequal length held together by wax and string). The simple, readily accessible and moving music Pan and the Arcadian shepherds originated soon gained a wide appreciation all over the Greek world. This pastoral (in Latin "pastor" = shepherd) music began to inspire highly educated poets, who developed verses in which shepherds exchanged songs in a beautiful natural setting preserved pristine from any incursions from a dangerous "outside." In the third century BC, a Sicilian poet, Theocritus, created a literary genre called "bucolic poetry" (from the Greek "bukolos," a herdsman), poems called "Idylls" that used these exchanges of verses by fictional shepherds as a compositional strategy. Mainly, these idealized shepherds recounted their heterosexual or homosexual love affairs and praised the poetry they loved and the master singers they admired. Two centuries later, the greatest of Roman (and perhaps of European) poets, Virgil (70-19 BC), used Theocritus's Greek Idylls in order to create masterpieces of bucolic poetry, known as the "Eclogues" or "Bucolics." Unlike Theocritus, who had placed his shepherds in Sicily, Virgil locates them back in Arcadia, an Arcadia, however, which has features strikingly resembling those of Northern Italy, where Virgil was born. Just as their Theocritean counterparts, the inhabitants of Virgil's Arcadia sing about love and its poetry, but they also make several crucial references to the political situation of Virgil's turbulent times. Many subsequent readers have in fact insisted that the "Eclogues" are stuffed full of references to politics and politicians, such as Julius Caesar and Octavian (Augustus Caesar). Virgil's poetic superiority has insured that his "Eclogues" never remained unknown in all the subsequent centuries of European culture. They became especially popular and imitated in the Italian, Spanish, French and English Renaissances of the 14th to 17th centuries, a period in which a type of verse called Pastoral Poetry was much appreciated by the intellectual and cultural elite.

    Millet's Bergers d'Arcadie was inspired by Nicolas Poussin's "The Arcadian Shepherds" or as "ET IN ARCADIA EGO" (1647).

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Other paintings by Jean-Francois Millet:

Arcas and Callisto
Arcas and Callisto
Autumn Landscape with a Flock of Turkeys
Autumn Landscape with a Flock of Turkeys
Breaking Flax
Breaking Flax
Bucheron Preparant Des Fagots
Bucheron Preparant Des Fagots
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.