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  • Jean-Francois Millet
    Oct 4, 1814 - Jan 20, 1875
  • L'Amour Vainqueur - 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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L'Amour Vainqueur
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  • L'Amour Vainqueur

  • Jean-Francois Millet
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  • 1851
    Oil on canvas
    Musée Thomas Henry, Cherbourg.

    The beautiful young woman in L'Amour Vainqueur, who hesitates so poignantly as a troop of charming putti pull and push and prod her toward a lovers' rendezvous, is the last of the alluring nudes that were the great triumph of Jean-Francois Millet's first decade as a mature artist. Millet worked on L'Amour Vainqueur between 1847 and 1851, during the same period in which he completed and exhibited The Sower (which won him renown at the Salon of 1850) and began his first scenes of Barbizon woodgatherers and harvesters. The hallmarks of Millet's peasant realism – the carefully observant draughtsmanship, the eye for a telling gestural detail, and the power to focus a complex array of emotions in the posture of a single figure -- are all foretold in this last of his romantic idylls.
    Millet's nudes are less well known today than his scenes of country laborers -- many are undoubtedly lost and the whereabouts of L'Amour Vainqueur had gone unrecorded for nearly a century -- but they are the crucible in which the realism for which the artist is so celebrated was first formed. When Millet left the école des Beaux-Arts in 1839, he tried assiduously to build a career on portrait painting and the history pictures of Salon competition. But those works would not support his growing household and he turned increasingly to small genre scenes depicting popular folk tales or an idealized rural life. Initially Millet drew nudes only to amuse friends or to explore poses for a large composition; but around 1846 he turned seriously to the study of the female nude, probably under the encouragement of his new friends Diaz and Troyon, who both had significant success with nudes painted in a deliberately eighteenth-century manner. Where those artists favored lush goddesses or doll-like female types devoid of personality, Millet preferred real females, and he looked to the example of Pierre Prud'hon rather than to Boucher or to Fragonard. L'Amour Vainqueur may specifically have been inspired by Prud'hon's L'Amour seduisant L'Innocence (private collection, Paris) in which a young maiden listens avidly to the attractive young god by her side as a single putto pulls her along by her skirt. Prudhon's painting of 1809 was exhibited in Paris in 1846 in a much heralded exhibition on the Boulevard Bonne-Nouvelle but would also have been available to Millet in a print.

    Little is known of the clientele for Millet's nudes. Generally, he sold his genre scenes for very modest prices to small Paris dealers such as Desforges or Beugniet. L'Amour Vainqueur, however, was sold on Millet's behalf by Alfred Sensier, the artist's friend, biographer and sometime-agent, directly to an unidentified collector. At a later date Sensier re-purchased the painting for his own extraordinary collection of Millet's work. L'Amour Vainqueur first came to public notice when it was published in an etching by Le Rat under its alternative title Femme entrainé par les amours by the Durand-Ruel Gallery shortly after the dealer purchased much of Sensier's collection in 1873. James Staats Forbes, a Scottish railroad baron who built a large collection of Barbizon and Dutch paintings during the last decades of the 19th century, lent the painting generously to exhibitions in Edinburgh and London, securely establishing its fame.

    The only known preparatory work for L'Amour Vainqueur is Millet's life study for the young woman's head and torso (Cabinet des desins, Musée du Louvre), a drawing in crayon noir which has become Millet's most widely reproduced image of a nude and has served as the only accessible evidence of the painting since the picture left the Forbes collection around 1907. A smaller Millet painting of a young woman clutching her draperies while assailed by cupids (often confused with L'Amour Vainqueur) was formerly in the collection of Sir Kenneth Clark and now belongs to the Musée Thomas Henry, Cherbourg. Alexandra R. Murphy

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Other paintings by Jean-Francois Millet:

La Tentation de saint Antoine
La Tentation de saint Antoine
Laitiere normande a Greville
Laitiere normande a Greville
Landscape with a Burning City
Landscape with a Burning City
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.