Jean-Francois Millet is considered one of the most important Realist painter and influential artist for Modern art. He was born in Grucky, a small village in Gréville-Hague, a former commune in Normandy, France. Millet’s parents were humble people; farmers, and devout Christians, a tradition kept by many generations. Growing up on the fields marked the artist’s work throughout his life, as well as being educated by parish priests. Millet had a rigorous schedule between working on the farm and studying; becoming fluent in Greek, reading Classic literature and learning to read the Solomons in Latin. Although he didn’t have much time left for leisure, he would always use it to draw and paint his surroundings. Since Millet was the eldest, he was left with the tougher farming tasks - themes that would return later in his paintings.
By 1833, Millet understood his true calling in life was not of a farmer, but of a painter, so his father decided to take him to a neighbor town named Cherbourg to begin studying art. With the help of his teacher, Millet earned a grant from the Municipal Council of Paris to study at the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts under Paul Delaroche, in 1833. Before he left, his grandmother reminded him that he would always be a Christian before he was an artist. His mutable temperament didn’t quite fit with the Academic life, bringing some struggle. By 1840, Millet returned to his hometown to become a portrait painter after having his first portrait accepted in the Paris Salon. But in about a year he returned to the city of art with his new wife, Pauline-Virginie Ono. In only a few years, Millet’s life would turn upside down, as his partner passed away and the Paris Salon rejected some of his works in 1843, forcing him back to Cherbourg again.
By the mid-1840s, Millet met and befriended many other artists with similar thoughts in Paris. Realist Painters like Constant Troyon, Théodore Rousseau, and Charles Jacque, who would all become part of the Barbizon School, a movement named after the Barbizon village in which these artists frequently visited to produce paintings. In 1845, the painter moved to Le Havre, where he worked mostly on portraits, and genre paintings as well. By this time, he was already in a relationship with Catherine Lemaire, who he married in 1853 and had a total of nine children with Millet. He would soon begin to turn away from previous subjects, like Romaniscized pastoral themes, and turn to a more Realistic approach. Millet would eventually choose to live away from the big city, like many of his artist friends, and moved to Barbizon in 1849 with his family.
Millet considered Harvesters Resting (Ruth and Boaz) one of his finest and most important works, and he took three years to conclude. Although he struggled with lack of money most of his life, Millet’s final years were hugely successful. His health began deteriorating which enabled him to continue working, and he passed away at the age of 60, on January 1875, in his beloved village of Barbizon. Millet’s legacy is never-ending, and his art continues to inspire, just as it did Vincent Van Gogh, who would copy many of his works. The Surrealist artist Salvador Dali also had a fascination with his work and wrote some analysis of it.