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  • Jean-Francois Millet
    Oct 4, 1814 - Jan 20, 1875
  • Man with a Hoe - 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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Man with a Hoe
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  • Man with a Hoe

  • Jean-Francois Millet
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  • 1860-1862
    Oil on canvas
    31.5 x 39 in.

    "As I have never seen anything but fields since I was born, I try to say as best I can what I saw and felt when I was at work," wrote Jean-Francois Millet. At the Salon of 1863, Man with a Hoe caused a storm of controversy. The man in the picture was considered brutish and frightening by Parisian bourgeoisie. The Industrial Revolution had caused a steady exodus from French farms, and Man with a Hoe was interpreted as a socialist protest about the peasant's plight. Though his paintings were judged in political terms, Millet declared that he was neither a socialist nor an agitator.

    A religious fatalist, Millet believed that man was condemned to bear his burdens. This farmer is Everyman. His face is lit, yet composed of blots of color that give him no individuality. He is big and dirty and utterly exhausted by the back-breaking work of turning this rocky, thistle-ridden earth into a productive field like the one being worked in the distance. A tribute to dignity and courage in the face of a life of unremitting exertion, Man with a Hoe was long considered a symbol of the laboring class.

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Other paintings by Jean-Francois Millet:

The Potato Harvest
The Potato Harvest
Shepherdess with Her Flock
Shepherdess with Her Flock
Louise Antoinette Feuardent
Louise Antoinette Feuardent
A Couple of Peasant
A Couple of Peasant
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.