The Artistic Journey of Jean-François Millet: A Comprehensive Guide

Jean-François Millet was a French painter who is widely recognized for his contribution to the Realism and Barbizon school art movements. His paintings depict the daily life of rural French people with great precision and tenderness. He was born on October 4, 1814, in the small village of Gréville-Hague, Normandy, and died on January 20, 1875, in Barbizon, France. In this blog post, we will explore Jean-François Millet’s life and work, his style, influences, and his most iconic paintings.


Jean-François Millet was an innovative French artist whose paintings chronicled the life of rural French peasants during the 19th century. His paintings brought attention to the plight of the rural poor and highlighted the beauty and dignity of their traditional way of life. Millet’s work continues to inspire artists, socialists, and humanists worldwide.

Early Life

Jean-François Millet grew up in a peasant family in Normandy, France. He was the eldest son of Jean-Louis-Nicolas Millet and his wife, Aimée-Henriette-Adélaïde Henry. When Millet was sixteen, he began attending the drawing classes taught by Paul Dumouchel in Cherbourg. Millet showed extraordinary talent in his drawings and paintings, and in 1837, he moved to Paris to study at the École des Beaux-Arts.

Learning from Masters

In Paris, Jean-François Millet studied under famous painters such as Paul Delaroche and Thomas Couture. He learned the techniques of Romanticism and Neoclassicism, which were popular styles of art during that period. Millet was more interested in depicting rural life and abandoned the glamour and grandeur of city life.

Becoming a Realist

Jean-François Millet’s visit to Barbizon, a small village in the Fontainebleau forest, marked a shift in his artistic style. The village was a hub for artists, writers, and poets who were all inspired by the natural beauty of the region. Millet was drawn to the simple life of the peasants and began painting scenes of their daily life. He also started focusing on the subjects’ feelings, thoughts, and personalities in his paintings.

See also  Jasper Johns: An Iconic Artist and his Fascinating Life

Millet was one of the pioneers of the Realism art movement, which aimed to depict life realistically. He believed that art should be honest and truthful, and not just be a manifestation of dreams and illusions. He viewed the peasants’ life as a source of authenticity and refused to idealize his subjects.

The Gleaners

One of Millet’s most famous paintings is “The Gleaners,” which he painted in 1857. The painting depicts three peasant women who are collecting leftover wheat grains from a field. The painting sparked controversy as it presented the working class as human beings with dignity, something that was seldom represented in art during that time. The painting was later used as a socialist symbol of the working-class movement.

The Angelus

“The Angelus” is another painting that Jean-François Millet is famous for. He painted it in 1857-1859. The painting shows two peasants, a man, and a woman, standing in a field, praying. The painting was used by the Catholic Church as a devotional image. The painting’s popularity increased when Millet added a bell ringing in the background, symbolizing the end of a day’s work.

Millet’s Media

Jean-François Millet used a range of mediums to create his paintings. He primarily used oil paints on canvas or wood, but he also explored pastels, etching, lithography, and drawing. Millet experimented with the effects of light and shadow on his subjects, creating a beautiful interplay of light and dark.


Millet was influenced by many artists from different periods of art history, including Michelangelo, Raphael, and The Le Nain brothers. He was also inspired by the works of Dutch painters such as Rembrandt and Pieter Bruegel, who often portrayed common people in their paintings. Additionally, his time spent in Normandy instilled in him an appreciation for rural life, which became a recurring theme in his paintings.

See also  Vintage Hat Pins: A Guide to the Fascinating Pieces of History

Political Beliefs

While Jean-François Millet is primarily known for his artistic contributions, he was also a political figure. Millet sympathized with the socialist movement and believed that art should serve the people. He saw the peasants’ life as a source of inspiration and viewed themselves as the heroes of his paintings. By portraying the peasants with dignity and respect, Millet aimed to challenge the existing class system.


Jean-François Millet was a profound artist, whose paintings portrayed the daily life and struggles of rural peasants in 19th century France. His work represented a departure from the traditional styles of art popular during that time and gave voice to the underprivileged class. Millet’s revolutionary ideas inspired artists and socialists worldwide, and his paintings remain a significant contribution to art history.