Peasant with a Wheelbarrow

Jean-François Millet (French, 1814-1875)

Currently on View in H211
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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.

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

Charles J. Morrill [1820-1895], Boston; to his sister, Annie W. Morrill [born 1834], Boston, by 1905, and until at least 1921.{1} Possibly via (Vose Galleries, Boston) to (Howard Young Galleries, New York), in 1924.{2} Frederick T. Haskell [1854-1935], Chicago; Art Institute of Chicago.{3} (E. and A. Silberman Galleries, New York) by 1949;{4} purchased by the John Herron Art Institute, now Indianapolis Museum of Art, in 1949.

{1} The painting was on loan to the Museum of Fine Art, Boston, in 1905; see MFA Bulletin, “Objects Newly Installed,” vol. 3, no. 6 (December 1905), p. 48. In Étienne Moreau-Nélaton, Millet Raconté par lui-même, vol. 1, Paris, 1921, pp. 107, 126, fig. 63 the owner is listed as “Miss A. W. Morrill.”
{2} Correspondence from Robert C. Vose to the IMA, dated 16 January 1952, refers to a Millet entitled Man with a Wheelbarrow, however the letter does not make clear if this reference is to a painting or a drawing of this subject; see IMA Historical File 49.48.
{3}Millet’s Man with a Wheelbarrow is identified as one of forty paintings that came to the Art Institute of Chicago as the bequest of Frederick T. Haskell, see Bulletin of the AIC, vol. 35, no. 7 (December 1941), p. 111.
{4}See IMA, Temporary Receipt No. 5259, dated 12 April 1949.

Object Information

artist
Jean-François Millet (French, 1814-1875)
creation date
1848-1852
materials
oil on canvas
dimensions
17-7/8 x 14-7/8 in.
accession number
49.48
credit line
The James E. Roberts Fund and gift of the Alumni Association of the John Herron Art School
copyright
Public Domain
collection
European Painting and Sculpture 1800-1945

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