Peasant with a Wheelbarrow

Jean-François Millet (French, 1814-1875)

Currently on View in H211

Acquired from (E. and A. Silberman Galleries, New York) in April 1949.{1}

{1} IMA Temporary Receipt No. 5259.

Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

Jean-François Millet is best known today for his heroic portrayals of the rural laborers of France. In 1849, he settled in the village of Barbizon, on the edge of the Fontainebleau forest, forty miles southeast of Paris. There he became affiliated with the landscape painters of the Barbizon School, who often worked directly from nature. Millet favored scenes of peasants at work, a theme made even more meaningful by the tumultuous labor revolutions of 1848 and France's growing industrialization.

A traditionally trained painter, Millet had a thorough grounding in classical art and a firm command of the standard working method of developing compositions through a series of preparatory studies. Yet, instead of selecting the typical famous subjects from history or literature, Millet painted nameless laborers engaged in routine activities. This canvas, with its noble figure bathed in golden light, demonstrates the artist's ability to idealize the people who worked the fields of the French countryside. With his simple farm tools and clothing, the peasant pushing a wheelbarrow becomes a timeless symbol of the dignity of labor and of a rapidly disappearing way of life. Millet's popularity has fluctuated with the times, but his distinctive attitude and imagery have been highly influential, inspiring artists from Vincent van Gogh and Camille Pissarro to the American poet Walt Whitman.

Ah Millet! Millet! How he has painted humanity, and that quality familiar yet solemn.
-Artist Vincent Van Gogh, 1890

Gallery Label

Millet was a leading member of the Barbizon School of painters, which rose to prominence around 1850. Often working directly from nature, these artists devoted themselves to painting landscapes in the vicinity of the village of Barbizon and the forest of Fontainebleau, where Millet moved in 1849.

Millet often depicted scenes of peasants at work, and his knowledge of classical art helped him to create dignified, idealized images of laborers in the French countryside. With his simple farm tools and clothing, the peasant pushing his cart becomes a timeless symbol of a rapidly disappearing rural way of life.

Object Information

Jean-François Millet (French, 1814-1875)
creation date
oil on canvas
17-7/8 x 14-7/8 in.
accession number
credit line
The James E. Roberts Fund and gift of the Alumni Association of the John Herron Art School
Public Domain
European Painting and Sculpture 1800-1945

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