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Title: Millet  - Masterpieces in Colour Series
Author: Turner, Percy Moore
Language: English
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Masterpieces in Colour

Edited by--T. Leman Hare

MILLET

1814-1875


       *       *       *       *       *

    "MASTERPIECES IN COLOUR" SERIES


       ARTIST.                   AUTHOR.
    VELAZQUEZ.                S. L. BENSUSAN.
    REYNOLDS.                 S. L. BENSUSAN.
    TURNER.                   C. LEWIS HIND.
    ROMNEY.                   C. LEWIS HIND.
    GREUZE.                   ALYS EYRE MACKLIN.
    BOTTICELLI.               HENRY B. BINNS.
    ROSSETTI.                 LUCIEN PISSARRO.
    BELLINI.                  GEORGE HAY.
    FRA ANGELICO.             JAMES MASON.
    REMBRANDT.                JOSEF ISRAELS.
    LEIGHTON.                 A. LYS BALDRY.
    RAPHAEL.                  PAUL G. KONODY.
    HOLMAN HUNT.              MARY E. COLERIDGE.
    TITIAN.                   S. L. BENSUSAN.
    MILLAIS.                  A. LYS BALDRY.
    CARLO DOLCI.              GEORGE HAY.
    GAINSBOROUGH.             MAX ROTHSCHILD.
    TINTORETTO.               S. L. BENSUSAN.
    LUINI.                    JAMES MASON.
    FRANZ HALS.               EDGCUMBE STALEY.
    VAN DYCK.                 PERCY M. TURNER.
    LEONARDO DA VINCI.        M. W. BROCKWELL.
    RUBENS.                   S. L. BENSUSAN.
    WHISTLER.                 T. MARTIN WOOD.
    HOLBEIN.                  S. L. BENSUSAN.
    BURNE-JONES.              A. LYS BALDRY.
    VIGÉE LE BRUN.            C. HALDANE MACFALL.
    CHARDIN.                  PAUL G. KONODY.
    FRAGONARD.                C. HALDANE MACFALL.
    MEMLINC.                  W. H. J. & J. C. WEALE.
    CONSTABLE.                C. LEWIS HIND.
    RAEBURN.                  JAMES L. CAW.
    JOHN S. SARGENT.          T. MARTIN WOOD.
    LAWRENCE.                 S. L. BENSUSAN.
    DÜRER.                    H. E. A. FURST.
    MILLET.                   PERCY M. TURNER.
    WATTEAU.                  C. LEWIS HIND.
    HOGARTH.                  C. LEWIS HIND.
    MURILLO.                  S. L. BENSUSAN.
    WATTS.                    W. LOFTUS HARE.
    INGRES.                   A. J. FINBERG.

        _Others in Preparation._

       *       *       *       *       *


    [Illustration: PLATE I.--THE WOOD-CUTTER. Frontispiece

    (In the Louvre)

    An instance of Millet in a less pessimistic mood than we
    generally find him. The wood-cutter, pursuing his vocation on a
    warm sunny day, full of life and vigour, brings before us the
    joyous side of peasant life. We feel that he is happy and
    contented, and if his lot is somewhat hard, he has none of those
    distracting ambitions which mar the enjoyment in life to all who
    fall a prey to them. The wood in the background is a good
    example of Millet's powers in this direction.]


MILLET

by

PERCY M. TURNER

Illustrated with Eight Reproductions in Colour



[Illustration: IN SEMPITERNUM.]

London: T. C. & E. C. Jack
New York: Frederick A. Stokes Co.



CONTENTS


                                         Page
      I. Introduction                      11
     II. Millet's Early Life               29
    III. The Migration to Paris            41
     IV. The Struggle for Recognition      52
      V. Millet in his Maturity            57
     VI. The Man and his Art               72



    LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


    Plate                                                 Page
       I. The Wood-Cutter                         Frontispiece
             In the Louvre

      II. The Weed-burner                                   14
             In the Louvre

     III. The Church at Gréville                            24
             In the Louvre

      IV. The Gleaners                                      34
             In the Louvre

       V. The Straw-binders                                 40
             In the Louvre

      VI. Spring                                            50
             In the Louvre

     VII. The Sawyers                                       60
             In the South Kensington Museum

    VIII. The Sheep-fold                                    70
             In the Glasgow Corporation Art Galleries



I

INTRODUCTION


Amongst the great painters of peasant life the name of Jean François
Millet stands out prominently. A long interval elapsed betwixt the
death of Adrian van Ostade and the birth of Millet, unbroken by a
single name, with the solitary exception of Chardin, of a painter who
grasped the profundity of peasant life. In Holland and Flanders in
the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries we find many painters who,
whilst living the humblest lives themselves, saw in their surroundings
such material for treatment as has handed their names down to
posterity. It is only quite recently that one of the greatest of all,
Pieter Brueghel the Elder, has come to occupy his proper position in
the world of art. Formerly he was looked upon as an eccentric painter,
whose subjects were generally of rather a coarse nature; who,
moreover, contented himself with depicting the droller side of the
village life of his period, and consequently was not to be taken
seriously. Of late years, however, an exhaustive research into his
life and works have revealed him as one of the greatest masters in his
own sphere of any time. The wonderful series of pictures in Vienna,
and the solitary examples scattered about the great collections of
Europe, proclaim him not only a painter, but a philosopher as well.
His peasants, grotesque as they may now appear to us, possess a
fidelity and vigour of handling such as none of his contemporaries
possess. To him, consequently, we must look as the fountain-head of
all peasant painting. His influence was immediately felt in the
Low Countries, and there sprang up that wonderful school of which
Adrian Brouwer, Jan Steen, and Adrian van Ostade are such brilliant
exponents. In their more recent prototype--Millet--the same profound
and sympathetic rendering of the everyday life of the simple peasant
is to be found, tinged with the melancholy fervour of his temperament.
Their temperament bears the same relation to his as the seventeenth
century does to the nineteenth. A more subdued temper had come over
all classes of the community, a less boisterous attitude towards life,
but the struggle for existence was none the less strenuous or
unending. The rollicking and reckless joy of Brouwer's peasants, with
their hard drinking and lusty bawling, was an essential feature of
Dutch life of the period. But they are every whit as precious from an
artistic and historical standpoint as are the placid interiors of
Millet.

    [Illustration: PLATE II.--THE WEED-BURNER

    (In the Louvre)

    A notable example of the simplicity of motive which
    characterises Millet's finest works. The treatment of the
    peasant figure in the centre of the picture is dominated by
    sincerity and sympathy. The half suggested landscape forming the
    background is symbolical of man's hard struggle with Nature. The
    colour scheme is very subdued, and serves to accentuate the
    wonderful outline and natural pose of the woman.]

During the two centuries which elapsed between these great masters
many changes had come over the lives of European people. The spread of
education, permeating down even to the lowest classes, had tended to
the sobering of habits; and the French peasant, with the partial
uplifting and greater contact through more equitable distribution of
the land which the Revolution had bestowed upon him, was a quieter man
than his Dutch prototype who had preceded him by a couple of
centuries.

In Millet's rendering of the life he found around him, the same
incisive truth and absorbing sincerity is to be found as in the
Dutchmen with whom I have compared him, and consequently Millet can be
considered as a direct lineal descendant of the mighty Brueghel.

The entire absence of the Dutchmen's brutality in Millet's work is to
be accounted for, firstly, by the extreme gentleness of his own
disposition; and, secondly, by his study of some of the greatest
masters of the Italian renaissance. His keenness of perception can be
gauged by his enthusiastic appreciation of Andrea Mantegna at a time
when the merits of that master were not understood as they are to-day.
Many of his noblest inspirations were conceived under the Paduan
painter's influence, and one could cite many compositions in which the
train of thought of the two masters seems to run upon parallel lines.

Upon first regarding a picture of Millet's mature years, one wonders
from whence come those subtleties of line and tone. There is nothing
analogous to them in the works of his contemporaries. The difference
too between his early efforts and those of his later years is
stupendous, but the lines which his development pursued are
essentially due to the simplicity of the life he led and the high
ideal he invariably kept before him. Living, as he always did, a life
of struggle, a never-ending battle against seemingly overwhelming
odds, he was in a position to grasp the sorrows and troubles of the
simple folk by whom he was surrounded. He further saw that work,
although they themselves were not aware of it, alone made life
liveable to them. He shared their struggles in their most intense and
poignant form. In fact when one contemplates the life which Millet
led, both at Gréville and at Barbizon, with its strenuousness and
earnestness, faced, moreover, with the ever-present dread of want, it
is to be wondered that he had the courage to live his life as he did.

It has become the fashion lately to decry certain phases of his art. A
charge of sentimentality is urged against some of his most popular
works. The "Angelus," about which many hard things have lately been
said, is a case in point. It must be remembered that modern life,
particularly as lived in great cities such as London or Paris, does
not tend to foster those simple ideas upon religion, which the
peasant, far removed from great centres of population, implicitly
accepts. He is, as a rule, a man of but little education, who has
heard nothing of the doubts and scepticisms with which townspeople of
every grade of society are so familiar. His ideas on religion are
exactly those which have come to him from his parents, and he is
incapable of doubting the elementary truths he was first taught. Such
simple ideas have departed from even the peasantry in most parts of
France. Only in Brittany and in La Vendée could one to-day encounter
the types Millet has portrayed for us in the "Angelus."

The two figures in the foreground are symbolical of all that is most
touching in French peasant life. The end of the day has arrived, and
after many hours of unremitting toil, the ringing of the bell in the
distant tower proclaims the finish of another day. The wonderful still
atmosphere which envelops the far-stretching plain, the whole suffused
with the effects of a placid and glorious sunset, lends an intensity
of poetical feeling which harmoniously blends with the placid nature
of the theme. All around us we have evidence of man's perpetual
struggle with nature, the grim fight for subsistence, for life itself.
The ploughed field has yielded many a crop, the reward of arduous
labour expended in sowing and reaping. The small recompense to the
labourer himself is symbolised by the extreme poverty with which the
man and woman are clothed, whilst the degrading nature of the toil, as
in the far famous "Man with the Hoe," is brought before us in the
rugged types of the labourer and his wife. The only softening
influence in their lives is that imparted by religion, and in choosing
this moment of the angelus for depicting them, Millet has brought
before us in the most forcible form not only the degrading character
of much of the toil which is entailed in producing the necessities of
existence, but also the danger of removing by any sudden change, no
matter how well intentioned, the consoling influence of religious
belief. A work into which such intense earnestness and melancholy
truth is infused can never be designated sentimental, except by those
who have not freely grasped the immense import of these qualities in
the production of great and enduring art. Brilliancy of technique and
extraordinary facilities, if unsupported by a determination to convey
some message, will inevitably find its own level, whilst the painter
who possesses this supreme quality will assuredly come into his own.

It must never be forgotten that in considering the oil paintings of
Millet, the subtleties of atmosphere and line can never be appreciated
if one is not acquainted with the country he painted. No two countries
are alike in atmospheric effect, and it is necessary, therefore, in
order to appreciate an artist to the full, to have studied the country
he has chosen to depict. The outlines of the landscape, the very shape
of the trees, the colour imparted by sunshine and clouds, differ
materially in various districts, and consequently it behoves one to
exercise caution before condemning this or that effect as being untrue
to nature.

It may safely be said that as a painter, purely and simply, Millet
will never occupy a very high position in the world of art. He never
bursts forth into any of those pyrotechnics which distinguished many
of his contemporaries and some of the painters of our own days. His
manner of handling the brush is always restrained to the point of
timidity. By this I do not mean to imply that he could not paint in a
large and bold manner; indeed on many occasions, as for example in the
"Sawyers," he has attained an astonishing degree of power. But as his
whole thoughts were directed to suppressing any tendencies towards
virtuosity, which might divert attention from the point he wished to
illustrate, he frequently appears to achieve his ends by holding
himself in restraint.

Another dominant characteristic of Millet's art is that the instant he
throws off his sadly philosophic mood, he is no longer a great artist.
For example, in the well-known picture of "La Baigneuse," he
endeavours to draw himself into depicting the brighter side of life.
In a wood resplendent with the sunlit foliage of a glorious summer
day, a young girl is about to enter the small river which runs
placidly between the moss-covered banks. In the distance a number of
ducks are disporting themselves in the water. Here is a theme which
would appeal irresistibly to a man of the temperament of Diaz; he
could impart the glories of colour as they were reflected from the
mirror-like surface of the water, the shimmering of the trees and the
delicious effect of the balmy breeze as it rustled through the
branches. But in the hands of Millet it is nothing but a sad
composition; the figure is well drawn; the ducks are admirably placed
in the composition, and the trees treated with studious fidelity, but
there is that great indefinable something lacking which attracts us
towards the master when working in a sadder mood.

Millet can be described as being more a philosopher than a painter.
Not only in his great paintings, which by the way are not very
numerous, but in his drawings and etchings, we discover the mind of a
man who has grappled with, and understood the great problems of life.
Poor as he was, and remained all his life, it is doubtful whether
riches or an improvement in circumstances would have brought him any
increased happiness. He loved the open country, and still more the
solitary peasant whom he found working in the fields, earning a bare
subsistence for himself and his little _ménage_ in the neighbouring
village. His interest was divided between the man at his work and his
wife and children in the _ménage_. The simplest incidents of their
everyday life did not escape him, and the smallest duty which would
have left unaffected a less observant nature has been made the subject
of many a fine canvas.

    [Illustration: PLATE III.--THE CHURCH AT GRÉVILLE

    (In the Louvre)

    One of the subtlest landscapes by Millet in existence. It shows
    that on occasions he could leave the beaten track and still
    remain as great a master as ever. Everybody who knows the
    atmosphere of Normandy will appreciate its truth and poetry. The
    marvellous results he has achieved with such a simple theme is
    worthy of our praise. The whole effect is so natural that we are
    apt to forget the keen sense of composition that was needed to
    present the subject in such an attractive form.]

Millet seems particularly to have been impressed with the loneliness
of the peasant's labour. Take, for example, that wonderfully luminous
canvas, "The Sheep Pen." Here, in the midst of a vast plain, a large
space is marked out in which to enclose the sheep for the night. The
sun, sinking low in the horizon, warns the shepherd that the time has
arrived for him to call together his flock and place them in safe
quarters for the night. Accompanied by his faithful dog, he stands at
the opening of the pen allowing the sheep to enter two or three at a
time. There is no other living soul in sight. Alone he has kept guard
over the flock during the long day, with no other company than his dog
and his own thoughts. He is dead to the beauties of the landscape
around him, and sees nothing more in a field than how much corn can be
raised each year from it, or in the sheep he tends so carefully how
much mutton it will make. He feels nothing of the glorious beauties of
the sunset, of which he is so often a witness; how it softens the
lines of the horizon and suffuses the distant woods and plain with its
golden rays. He sees nothing of the changes momentarily occurring in
the sky: how the blues get fainter and fainter, how the clouds are
tinged with opalescent hues, the shadows prolonging themselves as the
orb sinks deeper and deeper; or how, finally, when the sun has
disappeared, the whole heavens are lighted up in one blaze of glory.
Yet Millet would have us understand that in spite of this, the
shepherd is performing a duty to humanity not to be underrated. The
sheep he has so carefully and conscientiously reared will form food
to-morrow for many a hungry town-dweller. Further, he would have us
follow the peasant as he closes the pen for the night and traces his
tired steps towards his simple home in the village. The frugal and
hard-earned meal, prepared for him by his wife, who like himself has
had her share of duties to occupy her during the day, is partaken of
surrounded by a hungry and joyous group of children. Such themes
suggested by the simplicity of his own life appealed to him with
irresistible force, and it is in their portrayal that his greatness is
manifested.

Perhaps no season of the year presented the same attraction for Millet
as the spring. The period when all the earth after its long winter
sleep is about to waken into new life seems to have always been a
source of inspiration to him. In "The Sower" he emphasises the fact
that the fruits of the harvest are not to be had without due labour
being expended upon the earth. The sloping field, barren of
vegetation, and crowned at the top with a small clump of trees, is
being broken up by the distant plough drawn by two horses and guided
by a peasant. The latter figure is one of the noblest of Millet's
creations. By his strained and ever-attentive attitude, by his
continuous tramp over the rough and broken ground, he shows us the
monotony of his toil. He crosses the field in one direction, only to
return at an interval of a few feet. In the foreground we have the
sower, a middle-aged man of typical peasant type, on whose left side a
bag of seeds is slung. With automatic precision he withdraws a
handful, and strews it into the furrows open to receive it. So long as
he continues in the same track his labour will be well performed, and
hence his task is just as monotonous as that of his fellow-worker
higher up in the field. The silhouetting of these two figures against
the light is symbolical of the labour to be expended in life before
results are forthcoming.

From these remarks it will be seen that in considering the works of
Millet, one must not judge him from the standpoint of a mere painter.
His brush is only the means to an end, and by its means he is enabled
to bring the fruits of his philosophic observation before us in
permanent form. It has been charged against the "Angelus" that it was
not a remarkably fine piece of painting, that many a young artist of
the present generation is infinitely better equipped, technically
speaking, than the master who wrought this celebrated canvas. This may
in a measure be true, but it must never be forgotten that Millet
brought into play exactly the means which could illustrate his meaning
in the clearest terms. He had not intended, in painting such a
picture, to produce a work which would astonish his fellow artists
with its brilliancy of handling or magnificence of colour. He wanted
to make the beholder forget the painter and absorb the lesson. This
quality runs right through the art of Millet, and it is from this
standpoint that we are obliged to weigh his merits.



II

MILLET'S EARLY LIFE


Jean François Millet was born on October 4, 1814, that is at the
period when French art, at any rate as far as landscape painting is
concerned, had reached its lowest ebb. Throughout the eighteenth
century the landscape painter had been hard put to make a living. The
taste of connoisseurs throughout the century had been for portraits
and interiors, or for those numerous pastoral subjects which were
carried out with so much decorative charm by such men as Watteau and
Boucher. Such landscape painting as existed was of the type
popularised by Vernet; it was built upon a curious mixture of Italian
influence coming from Panini and Salvator Rosa. The only evidence of
revolt against such a state of affairs we find in the works of Hubert
Robert and Moreau. These two, and more especially would I direct the
reader's attention to the latter, struggled hard to break down the
conventionalities of the time. They endeavoured to infuse some sense
of atmosphere into their pictures, and whilst frequently their trees
and figures are painfully formal, they yet stand alone in the French
school as the pioneers of a phase of art which was to attain its
zenith in the middle of the nineteenth century.

But after the Revolution, and during the whole of the time that France
was under the domination of Napoleon, very rigid principles indeed
were enforced with regard to the direction that art should take. The
innovation which had its commencement in the reign of Louis XVI. swept
everything before it as it gained force. Classical art and traditions
dominated the whole French school, and no artist, however great his
reputation, attempted for many years to swim against the stream. In
spite of the principles of liberty and equality which were claimed for
all under the new _régime_, a terribly strict eye was kept upon any
innovations which might break out in the form of a naturalistic art.
The directors of this new movement failed to see that the conditions
which had produced the great Greek and Roman sculptors had passed
away, and that the latter's supremacy was due to the fact that their
productions were symbolical of the loftiest thoughts of their own
epoch. The art which expresses the ambitions and noblest thoughts of
its time will alone endure. These expressions are not applicable to
any other condition than those which called them forth, and hence in
attempting to purify the rococo which had existed up to the middle of
the eighteenth century, by a return to classical traditions, they were
only copying that which their predecessors had done, and in so doing
left us without any original expression of their own time.

Into such a condition of affairs was Millet born, and he was numbered
amongst that little band of men which included Rousseau, Corot, Dupré,
Diaz, and Daumier, who were to lay the foundations of the modern
naturalistic school. At the outset it was seemingly a hopeless
struggle they undertook; a struggle against prejudice and influence
which was only to be brought to a victorious culmination after years
of struggle and disappointment. Of this little band, Millet was
perhaps the best equipped for the privations which were necessary. He
came of a peasant stock who inhabited Gruchy, a small village
situated in the commune of Gréville, close to Cherbourg. Grouped
underneath the humble roof was the grandmother, who had been left a
widow fifteen years before; her son, Jean Louis Nicolas Millet, and
his wife and eight children, of which our artist was the second. His
grandmother appears to have been a pious old lady, whose chief delight
was in her grandchildren, to whom she taught those religious
principles which stood them in good stead in after life. We are told
that Millet's father possessed a force of character one does not often
find amongst men in his rank of life. He was of a contemplative
disposition, and had a keenly developed feeling for natural beauty. He
possessed moreover a keen appreciation of music, which unfortunately
he does not appear to have had much opportunity of cultivating. His
wife was an excellent housewife and of a religious turn of mind. The
house they occupied, situated quite a short distance from the sea, was
placed in a tract of country which, whilst it had rugged and
picturesque features, was not of a nature which would yield
extraordinary results under cultivation. It was, therefore, a hard
struggle for existence which Millet in his first years saw going
on around him. Not that the family were any the less happy for having
to work laboriously for their livelihood. They had been brought up
amidst such surroundings; their wants were simple and easily
gratified, and the tranquillity of the _ménage_ more than
counterbalanced those doubtful luxuries which easier circumstances
would have brought their way. Throughout his life Millet maintained
the extreme simplicity he had seen practised in the home of his
childhood, and long years afterwards he was accustomed to look back
with pleasureable memories upon his early years.

    [Illustration: PLATE IV.--THE GLEANERS

    (In the Louvre)

    One of the most popular pictures of the master, and by many
    considered his masterpiece. We know that this work involved an
    unusually large amount of thought and work on the part of the
    artist. Separate studies exist of all the figures in many
    different poses. Not the least wonderful part is the background,
    with its crowd of harvesters, enveloped in the golden sunlight
    of a warm summer afternoon. "The Gleaners" is one of the best
    preserved of the large canvases of Millet.]

Gruchy, situated in one of the wildest parts of Normandy, feels the
full effect of every storm which blows up from the Atlantic. There is
nothing to shelter the exposed hamlets studded along the coast from
the fury of the western gale, and the rocks are but too often strewn
with the wrecks of vessels which have come to grief in that terrible
sea. Millet in his youth must have witnessed many of these
catastrophes. Quite a number of drawings by him are extant
representing succour being extended to some vessel in difficulties, or
the hauling up of some wreckage on to the rocks. The studious boy
must have been impressed as he saw the sternness of the combat in his
native country between men and nature; the wind-swept fields, and
hills bare to the point of savageness. The very trees themselves
dwarfed and gnarled; in their struggle with the elements they have
been made tough and hardy as the inhabitants of the country
themselves, and, stunted as they are, yet show well that they can
resist the force of the fiercest storm. The brooding and contemplative
character of the father having descended to the son, we can quite
imagine the effect such surroundings would have upon him. As he looked
back in after years upon his roamings in his native country, he
appreciated the awe-inspiring character of the scenery in which he had
been born. He would doubtless recall many a walk amidst the fields
with the wind blowing in his face as it rushed in from the Atlantic,
the rain beating hard upon the freshly ploughed fields, and the
distant figure of the ploughman struggling hard with his team against
the stiff sou'wester. The great mass of vapour overhead whirled before
the violence of the storm, casting grey and pearly light over the
whole scene, whilst far away on the top of the hill a clump of trees,
bent with their resistance to the wind, are silhouetted against the
sky. Many a drawing of this kind we encounter in the later work of
Millet, which shows how his thoughts harked back in certain moments to
the scenes he had left behind him for ever.

We know that on one or two occasions he returned to Gruchy. Once or
twice he had urgent business which took him back, but sometimes he
went with no other purpose than to renew acquaintance with the scenes
of yore.

Little Jean François was his grandmother's favourite. It was she who
taught him the names of things which surrounded him, and perhaps
directed his thoughts in the channels to which they were finally to be
devoted. Her brother Charles, who formed one of the family, used to
take him for walks, telling him stories on the way. Millet was
devotedly attached to this old man, and when at the age of seven years
he lost him, the gap in his life thus left made an impression upon his
memory never to be effaced.

Five years afterwards he was placed in the hands of the vicar for the
purpose of preparing him for his first communion. The good man seems
to have been taken with the child; he found him so attentive to all
natural phenomenon which was passing around him and intelligent in an
unusual degree. He quickly learnt a considerable amount of Latin,
which introduced him to the great classics. Unfortunately for Millet,
the vicar accepted an offer of transference to a better parish in the
vicinity. The boy had made such progress with his master that it was
decided that he should go with him to his new abode. He was, however,
so missed in his own home, that when he came back for his first
holidays it was decided that he should not return.

He now gave serious attention to the agricultural pursuits of his
father. He threw himself heartily into the work of the farm, and
assisted in the work of sowing and harvesting, of pruning and
thrashing according to the season. His spare time was occupied in
reading with avidity various masterpieces of literature. The authors
he found at hand were such as Fénélon and Bossuet, but he developed a
decided preference, which lasted till the end of his life, for Virgil
and the Bible.

It was at this time that his taste for art began to be developed.
He drew the objects he found around him, and soon acquired sufficient
confidence in his skill to execute a large drawing representing two
shepherds keeping guard over their sheep. These first efforts date
from about his seventeenth year, and foretell the advent of the style
in which he was later to become pre-eminent.

    [Illustration: PLATE V.--THE STRAW-BINDERS

    (In the Louvre)

    The wonderful capacity of Millet for portraying action is
    demonstrated to the full in this canvas. Hard, unremitting toil
    is the theme Millet has wished to bring before us. The heat is
    intense, but the work goes on with unrelaxing vigour. The
    masculine energy of the two bending figures are in striking
    contrast with the figure of the young girl on the left of the
    picture. The artist shows that he was quite capable of infusing
    charm into his peasant studies as well as bringing the
    brutalising aspect of their labour before the spectator.]



III

THE MIGRATION TO PARIS


How frequently has it happened that the first years in the life of a
genius have been employed in labour quite different from that to which
they should have been directed. Such a state of affairs the more often
occurs when the sense of duty has been strong enough to overcome
temporarily the inclination to pursue the natural bent. In the case of
Millet, however, the early years which he devoted to the farm and its
pursuits were by no means wasted. It is on record that he became very
proficient in the various duties in which he was engaged, but at the
same time we can be quite sure that his extraordinary faculties of
observation were constantly being brought into play, and the fruits of
his observations are to be seen in the pictures of his mature period.

A considerable portion of his spare time was taken up with drawing,
not only the persons and objects he found around him, but also
subjects suggested to him by the books he was in the habit of reading.
His family, so far from throwing any obstacles in his way, encouraged
him. In fact it was his father who took him first to Cherbourg in
order to show a painter of that town, named Mouchel, the early
products of his son's genius. The decision at which Millet _père_ had
arrived was prompted by a drawing in charcoal of an old peasant
walking along the road, which had struck him forcibly as being a work
of extraordinary merit. It says much for Mouchel's breadth of mind
that he was equally impressed with the drawings. A man who had been
brought up in the school of David, and who had lived in one of the
most reactionary periods of French art, was hardly to be expected to
take kindly to a style so diametrically opposed to all the traditions
into which he himself had been inculcated; certainly the young
Millet, who had now arrived at the age of eighteen, had not developed
the extraordinary freedom which his works of ten years later
demonstrate. But there was sufficient originality even in his early
drawings to call forth condemnation from a man who had been so
saturated with the teaching of David.

He prevailed upon Millet to leave his son with him, and set him to
work to copy many well-known works of art which he brought before his
pupil by means of engravings. Two months were spent in this way when
news reached Millet that his father had been seized with sudden
illness, and he was obliged in the circumstances to return to
Gréville. He arrived to find the old man unconscious, and very shortly
afterwards he died.

This misfortune awoke in Millet a sense of duty which compelled him to
desert his studies in Cherbourg and superintend the management of the
farm. For some time he devoted himself entirely to his new duties, but
the struggle betwixt duty and genius continued; he gave himself to his
work with all the energy at his disposal, but his thoughts were ever
wandering to his art.

Added to his own inclinations, his grandmother, who perceived his
extraordinary gifts, strongly persuaded him to devote his attention
entirely to art, and consequently after some little time he decided to
return to Cherbourg. Here he entered the studio of M. Langlois, an
artist whose reputation in the town was considerable. Again in this
worthy man he came in contact with a painter who had been brought up
entirely under classical influence. Langlois, who had in his early
days been a pupil of Gros, had absorbed the classical tradition to
such an extent as to be incapable of appreciating any other style. He
appears to have endeavoured to mould Millet in his own method rather
than develop the latent genius which the latter possessed. The
incompatibility of these two men speedily caused the younger to strike
out in his own way. He saw more good in frequenting the museums and
making copies of such works as appealed to him than in listening to
the advice of his teacher. All this occurred, however, without any
breach of friendship occurring. On the contrary, Langlois, after
perceiving the futility of inducing his pupil to follow in his
footsteps, did all he could to advance his interests.

By means of his influence some of Millet's drawings were brought
before the Municipal Council, and Langlois suggested that Millet
should be sent to Paris in order to further his development, and that
the Council should set aside a modest pension to meet his requirements
in that city. The discussion appears to have been very prolonged, and
upon the question being put to a vote it was only carried by means of
the casting vote of the mayor. Four hundred francs was at first
allotted to him in this way, which was further increased shortly
afterwards to six hundred. Such encouragement, meagre though it was,
was sufficient to give him a foothold in the metropolis. He left
Cherbourg in January 1837, on a cold and raw day, the snow falling
heavily throughout the entire journey, and arrived in Paris in a very
disheartened condition. The miserable weather, coupled with the long
journey in which he had had time to think of the small sum which lay
between him and starvation, going to a city which he had never seen
before, had all served to work upon his nerves, and he entered the
great city sick at heart and very despondent.

One of the first visits he made after he was somewhat settled down in
Paris was to the Louvre. Here he was brought into contact for the
first time with many masters, who were to mould his yet plastic
temperament into the form which enabled him to give to the world, in
later years, so many masterpieces. As I have said before, it was
Mantegna who first captivated him, and the influence of the mighty
Paduan was never finally to be shaken off. Michel Angelo awed him with
his sublimity; his classical severity tempered with intense humanism,
his masculine strength, were bound to have their effect upon so
serious a character as Millet. Strange as it may seem to those who are
but superficially acquainted with his art, and are only too apt to
judge him by the influence he has had upon modern French painting, he
was fascinated with the antique. The traditions of Phidias and
Praxiteles, in the form in which they had been transmitted through the
greatest minds of the Renaissance, were ever the factors which guided
him throughout his career. It was this same spirit which impelled his
fervid admiration for Nicolas Poussin, a master who to-day is sadly
underrated and but little understood. It was the mysteries of line,
the wonders of pose and composition rather than the magic of colour
which appealed to him. He had a profound admiration for the glowing
canvases of Titian and Rubens, but he could never overlook entirely
their defects of drawing or, in the case of Rubens, the tendency to
vulgarity. From his remarks in after years it would appear that he was
baffled with the mysticisms of Velazquez and Rembrandt; pure painting
itself could never hold him. He needed to grasp the message which lay
behind it before he felt fully taken into the confidence of the
painter; and as the minds of the Dutchman and the Spaniard ran in
quite different channels to his own, they spoke with a language he
never understood. That he had a perceptive and critically independent
mind may be gauged from his enthusiasm for Delacroix, whose work he
encountered for the first time at the Luxembourg.

During this period of study he was carefully considering under what
master he should place himself. His choice unhappily fell upon
Delaroche. To any one acquainted with the work of the latter master,
a more unsuitable selection could not have been made. Delaroche and
the painters who surrounded him can be appropriately described as
constituting the back-wash of the Empire style, which had reached its
climax with David. His subjects were always treated with academic
reserve. No pyrotechnics were permitted; on the contrary, an
everlasting and mistaken striving for finish was encouraged:
originality was sternly suppressed. To paint human life as it really
was, was too vulgar for any of the painters of this time. They held
the public taste enslaved for years. An innovator such as Millet was
destined to become found his position almost untenable. The band of
critics and painters formed a monopoly which it seemed almost
impossible to break down, and it was only after years of bitter and
determined struggle that the school of nature finally routed its
opponent.

Delaroche doubtlessly found the peasant painter a little rude both in
his person and in his ideas about art. He paid but little attention to
the young man who had placed himself in his hands, and devoted all his
time to students who were more amenable to his influence. A
temperament so sensitive as Millet's was bound to notice this
neglect, and consequently after a time he became so discouraged that
he ceased to frequent Delaroche's studio. Another very good reason for
this action was the lack of resources to continue his payments. Even
during the time he had been with Delaroche he lost no opportunity of
turning a few honest francs by painting the portraits of any who could
be got to sit to him. Delaroche, however, had a more kindly heart than
Millet imagined. He seems to have found out the real distress of the
young artist, and to have assisted him pecuniarily in many ways, and
there is no doubt that he appreciated the talent of the young Norman
much more than he cared to own. Many of his remarks on record would
serve to show that Delaroche already felt that his pupil was destined
to be one of the leaders of the movement which was finally to
overthrow his own style, and doubtlessly felt a great admiration for a
man who had the courage and strength to swim against rather than with
the current.

    [Illustration: PLATE VI.--SPRING

    (In the Louvre)

    It is probable that Millet wished this picture to be regarded
    rather as a symbolical representation of Spring, than as an
    actual study from Nature. The storm that has just passed over
    has been severe, but of short duration. The sun, breaking
    through the dense banks of clouds, reveals the splendours of the
    water-sodden landscape; the apple-trees full of bloom, the
    verdantly green grass, the young foliage on the distant trees,
    all reveal the benefit they have received from the downpour.]



IV

THE STRUGGLE FOR RECOGNITION


Freed from all encumbrances save poverty, Millet was now to work out
his own destiny according to the dictates of his genius. He joined a
friend named Marolle, and the two together occupying a very small
apartment endeavoured to eke out an existence. It was only too soon
apparent that young as he was, and the taste of the public being not
yet ready for development upon the lines his genius directed him, that
his livelihood could not be secured by endeavouring to sell such
subjects as appealed to him. In these straits he turned to
portrait-painting, just as many great painters before and since him
have done. That the struggle was very keen can well be imagined by the
fact that he was unable to obtain more than five to ten francs apiece;
and, as commissions were very scarce, he was hard put to gain the
means of subsistence. This state of affairs lasted until 1840, in
which year he endeavoured to obtain admission to the Salon with two
portraits, one of which was that of his friend. This, however, was
rejected, and the other picture, although accepted, was unnoticed by
either the critics or the public.

Having occasion the next year to pay a visit to Cherbourg, he felt
obliged to report himself to the Municipal Council who had had the
generosity to send him in the first place to Paris. Its worthy members
expressed themselves as but little satisfied with the result of their
investment; they claimed that they had had as yet but little to show
for their money, and they suggested, partly as a means of
demonstrating that they had had some little return, and also, in order
to see of what stuff their _protégé_ was made, that he should paint a
portrait of the recently deceased mayor. As Millet had not been
personally acquainted with that worthy citizen, and as the only guide
which could be supplied him was a portrait made in miniature when he
was a young man of some twenty-three or twenty-four years of age, the
task was by no means easy. However, the artist set to work with a
will, and finally accomplished the picture to his own satisfaction.
Upon it being shown to the Council, one and all declared, as any one
with the slightest knowledge of such matters could have told them
before it was commenced, that it bore not the least resemblance to the
defunct magistrate. They therefore demurred at the three hundred
francs they had agreed to pay him for the portrait, and offered him
one-third of that amount instead. Millet was deeply offended by the
insult, and informed the Council that he made them a present of the
picture.

It was during this short visit to his native country that he met his
first wife, a Mlle. Ono, whose portrait he had painted. From the first
she was very delicate, and he lost her after much suffering, three
years later. His second wife was Mlle. Catherine Lemaire, who was
destined to be the companion of his struggles until the end of his
life.

Meanwhile Millet was occupied with subjects which he thought would
appeal to the general public. A number of classical pictures date from
this epoch. It was an endeavour on his part to fall in as far as
possible with the current taste, and so supply means of subsistence
for his family. At the same time he did not neglect his favourite
subjects, and many are the wonderful studies of peasant life which
date from these years. His reputation had so far advanced that he was
offered the position of teacher of drawing in the college at
Cherbourg. It must have been only after prolonged deliberation that he
refused the proffered post. Here a certain annual stipend was assured
him, and if it was not large in itself it would at any rate suffice to
keep the wolf from the door. He preferred, however, to return to Paris
and work out his own destiny as best he might.

Millet, who lived at this time in the Rue Rochechouart, began to
surround himself with that little group of friends who remained
faithful to him until the end of his career. Amongst the earliest were
Charles Jacque and Diaz: the latter had several clients amongst the
small dealers, whom he induced to visit Millet's studio and make now
and again a small purchase.

Millet now became a fairly regular contributor to the Salon, but
generally sent some classical or religious picture as well as one of
his peasant subjects. For example, in 1848 he sent the marvellous
study of "The Winnower," which we all know so well, accompanied by a
canvas, "The Captivity of the Jews at Babylon." The latter, however,
was so badly received that he utilised the canvas upon its return for
a large picture of a "Shepherdess tending her Sheep."

In spite of the headway that he was making, the struggle for existence
seemed keener than ever, and but for the kindness of friends he and
his family would frequently have actually wanted for food. A timely
advance of one hundred francs obtained for him from the Minister of
Fine Arts, together with a commission from the State, for which he was
paid the sum of eighteen hundred francs, were for some time the only
relief he obtained from his embarrassments. That he was not particular
as to how he earned his daily bread is apparent from the fact that he
did not despise an order for a shop sign for a midwife, for which he
was paid the miserable amount of thirty francs.

The year 1848 was not an encouraging one for a painter who was
standing on the threshold of his career. The whole of Europe was
seething with revolution. A repetition of the fearful year of 1792 was
everywhere expected. The struggle betwixt reaction and property on the
one hand, and lawlessness and revolution on the other, was being waged
with grim determination. The issue was for long in the balance. One
never knew from one day to another what was going to happen. In such a
deplorable state of affairs men's minds were running on politics and
wars rather than upon art. Millet amongst the rest was called upon to
shoulder the musket, and it can be easily imagined with what
reluctance he did so.

Paris, the great centre of art, had yet not afforded him much
encouragement. Life was dear in the big city, and surrounded on all
sides by bricks and mortar he was not free to go out into the fields
and study the objects which were uppermost in his mind. He resolved to
escape from it, and once having put the plan into execution he never
returned.



V

MILLET IN HIS MATURITY


The Barbizon of 1850 was a very different place from the Barbizon of
to-day. The world fame of the men who passed a quiet and strenuous
existence in the little village has transformed it into a tourist
resort, with restaurants and cafés, the stopping-places for
waggonettes which in summer bring their daily load of sightseers,
eager to see the homes of the painters whose names are now household
words.

It would have been well-nigh impossible for the little band to have
chosen a more suitable spot for their labours. Rousseau and Millet,
much as they were drawn towards each other by the tie of a sympathetic
disposition and by their common interest in art, yet were widely
dissimilar from one another in their outlook upon art and their
methods of worship at the common shrine. Rousseau--one can see it from
every picture he painted--loved with all the yearning of a passionate
and restless temperament the inanimate in Nature. Observe with what
fidelity he draws his trees, with what caressing tenderness his clouds
and skies are treated; solitude appealed to him above all things, and
if here and there he was obliged to insert a few figures to complete
his composition, one instinctively feels that he would rather have
substituted a group of cattle or a flock of sheep. In the glades of
the forest, far from the busy haunts of men, with the glorious
sunlight penetrating from above, the breeze moaning through the
branches, he was happy. A wild and turbulent temperament such as his
not infrequently discovers exquisite enjoyment amidst such perfect
tranquillity.

    [Illustration: PLATE VII.--THE SAWYERS

    (In the South Kensington Museum)

    Very few of Millet's works can rival this superb picture in
    vigour of handling and magic of line. He has succeeded in
    infusing an enormous amount of energy into the two figures,
    without sacrificing refinement. The absolute stillness of the
    wood beyond is unbroken, save by the monotonous hacking of the
    wood-cutter, who, axe in hand, is making a determined onslaught
    upon a venerable tree. As an example of Millet's powers as a
    painter it would be hard to beat, and in it he has preserved
    those rare qualities of freedom and rhythm of line we find in
    his best drawings.]

Barbizon, situated on the fringe of the great forest of Fontainebleau,
therefore, permitted Rousseau to come into daily contact with the
scenes which so appealed to him.

Millet, on the other hand, was absorbed in the peasant. The man who
tilled the soil and raised the produce humanity requires for its
subsistence by the sweat of his brow; the manifold duties of the
labourer, his life and sorrows, appealed to him with irresistible
force. An unpeopled track of wild and uncultivated land would not call
forth any emotion in him, no matter how sublime the scenery might be.
The life of the village, spreading itself into the vast and fertile
plain behind, held him absorbed; a peasant himself and living amongst
the people he so loved, he was in a position to bring before an
unthinking world the poignant monotony of their useful lives.

Upon their first arrival at Barbizon, the two artists put up at a
small inn, working all day in a tiny place they had rented from some
peasants and fitted up as a studio. The inconveniences of this
arrangement were soon apparent, and shortly afterwards Millet took a
small house which was destined to be his abode for the remainder of
his life; an old barn in the immediate vicinity meanwhile provided him
with an excellent studio.

From this period onward we must date the greatest productions of the
master, the works which have induced more thought than those of any
other peasant painter. A peasant among peasants, his life was of the
most rigid simplicity. Behind his little abode a large garden
stretched away almost to the fringe of the forest itself, and here he
was accustomed to work every morning, growing a portion of the food
necessary to the sustenance of his family. The afternoon he devoted to
painting, whilst the evening was given over to intercourse with his
little circle of friends. The simplicity and tranquillity of his life
aroused the whole of his powers to action, and surrounded with
everything he valued in life he was supremely happy.

The country around Barbizon appealed to him irresistibly. The
timber-studded plains, the gently undulating, highly cultivated
fields, presented a strange contrast to the wild and rugged country
amidst which he had spent his childhood, and no doubt conduced to the
development of a more refined and contemplative style than he would
otherwise have acquired. Upon his few visits to his native country he
appears to have been more impressed than ever with its austerity, and
the drawings which these journeys called forth bore ample evidence of
this feeling in him.

Lack of the necessary funds to carry on even his simple _ménage_ was
ever the bane of Millet's life. On many occasions Sensier, his
intimate friend and afterwards his biographer, informs us he dissuaded
him from suicide.

The sums that he owed, small though they were, rendered him in
constant fear of the brokers. With creditors so importunate in their
demands for satisfaction, and with the constant lack of recognition,
which was his lot, it is astonishing that Millet achieved so much. He
was relieved more than once by the kind-hearted and ever faithful
Rousseau, who when his friend was sorest pressed found some delicately
hidden means to relieve him. It was he who acquired for 4000 francs
the wonderful "Peasant grafting a Tree," when the picture failed to
find a purchaser; and in order that Millet should not be aware of his
generosity, he made the offer in the name of an imaginary American.
This sort of goodness he repeated more than once, and it redounds
still more to his credit when we remember that Rousseau himself was
not infrequently in pecuniary difficulties.

A constant succession of important works made their appearance during
the first ten years Millet spent at Barbizon. The first was the
well-known "Sower," which has ever been one of the most popular of his
pictures. Then came the far finer "Peasants going to Work," which for
many years was in an English Collection. The "Gleaners," perhaps the
noblest canvas the master ever painted, dates from 1857, in which year
it was seen at the Salon; the celebrated "Angelus" followed it two
years later. The prices which Millet obtained for this series of
remarkable works was fantastically small. The "Gleaners" brought him a
paltry 2000 francs, whilst he accounted himself lucky to encounter an
amateur who gave him the same sum for the small "Woman feeding Fowls."
The "Angelus," which was never exhibited, was sold in the year it was
painted to a Monsieur Feydeau, an architect, for 1800 francs. It then
passed through several hands before the late Monsieur Secrétan
competed up to 160,000 francs before he became possessed of the prize
at the John Wilson sale.

The purchase, however, proved a sound investment, for upon the
dispersal of his collection it was knocked down for 553,000 francs to
a Monsieur Proust, acting on behalf of the French Government. The
latter, however, when they gave the commission to buy the picture, had
no idea that such a high value would be placed upon it, and
consequently refused to ratify the sale; a syndicate now came upon the
scene, who took it to America. The price, however, proved greater than
even the millionaires of the States were prepared to give, and the
canvas again returned to France, where it found a resting-place in the
collection of Monsieur Chauchard, who paid the enormous sum of 800,000
francs for its possession.

In 1859 Millet sent two works to the Salon, a "Woman grazing her Cow,"
and "Death and the Woodman." The latter, one of the most
philosophical of Millet's pictures, which to-day is the principal
attraction of the Jacobsen Museum at Copenhagen, was rejected.
Disappointments of this kind came with such systematic regularity to
the painter that he must have become proof against them. He always had
bitter enemies amongst the critics, who never failed to pour abuse
upon his method and his subjects. Even a number of his fellow artists
joined in the chorus of disapproval. But the vehemence with which he
was attacked was striking evidence of the impression he was making and
the inward sense of his own powers; and the fact that he was working
out his destiny according to the dictates of his own genius supported
him against this outpouring of prejudice and malice. The social side
of life appealed to him more strongly as the years rolled on, and the
murmurings which had been heard in 1859 as to the socialistic
tendencies of "Death and the Woodman" swelled to a roar when the
stupendous "Man with the Hoe" was exhibited fourteen years later. The
latter, one of the most virile studies of depraved humanity which the
world has ever seen, has always been a favourite with social
reformers, and has inspired one remarkable poem. Even his most
implacable critics were disarmed before this canvas; its power was
magnetic; it was an inspiration, soul moving and trenchant.

His financial difficulties never completely dispersed. At one time, in
order to insure himself a little tranquillity, he made a contract with
two speculators, whereby they were to become possessors of all the
work he produced for three years, in consideration of their assuring
him a thousand francs a month. A great number of Millet's finest
productions passed thus through their hands, including the "Return
from the Fields" and the "Man with the Hoe." The partners were not
long in quarrelling, and after a lawsuit had been fought, Millet was
left in the hands of a man who frequently would not or could not pay
him in ready money, and whose bills he was frequently forced to
discount at considerable loss.

One little gleam of sunshine rendered his later days happy. This was a
commission from a Colmar banker, Monsieur Thomas by name, who required
four allegorical compositions representing the Seasons, to decorate
his rooms. The artist was overjoyed by this piece of good fortune,
and immediately commenced a most conscientious study of such mural
decoration as was within reach, in order that he might do full justice
to his patron. He paid frequent visits to Fontainebleau and the
Louvre, and even desired a friend to inquire if he could not obtain
reproductions of the frescoes at Herculaneum and Pompeii. In spite of
all this elaborate preparation, the subjects were not such as appealed
to his genius, and in spite of them being well and soundly painted, we
are told that they presented no features which called for special
comment.

He found, however, a much more genial occupation in accomplishing a
series of drawings ordered by a Monsieur Gavet, who paid the artist
1000, 700, and 450 francs each, according to their size. He made
altogether ninety-five drawings in this way, and it is said that this
gentleman had in his possession the finest work in black and white and
water-colour the artist ever executed.

Towards the latter end of his life the death of dear relatives and
friends cast a sorrowful gloom over him. Amongst the latter Rousseau,
who expired in his presence on the 22nd of December 1867, was
perhaps the loss which seemed to him hardest to bear. A staunch and
trusty friend, who was to be relied upon when his prospects seemed the
most hopeless, he had been one of the very few who had appreciated
Millet's talents at their full worth, and who, moreover, scanty as his
own means were, was ever ready to stretch out his hand to assist his
struggling friend.

    [Illustration: PLATE VIII.-THE SHEEP-FOLD

    (In the Glasgow Corporation Art Galleries)

    The poetry of moonlight has never been better realised than by
    Millet. The lonely watch of the shepherd, the huddling together
    of the sheep, the dreary mystical plain stretching away to the
    horizon, losing itself finally in the vaporous atmosphere of the
    chilly night, are all rendered with astonishing fidelity. It is
    in such works as these that the master reveals his sympathy with
    the solitude of many phases of peasant life.]

Shortly afterwards Millet paid a visit to his patron, Herr Hartmann,
at Münster, and from here he went for a short time into Switzerland.
Upon his return he devoted himself with great earnestness to work, and
achieved a certain success at the Salons with his exhibits. The
outbreak of the war with Germany caused him to migrate with his family
to Cherbourg, where he thought he might continue to work, removed as
far as possible from the scenes of carnage and struggle which were
going on farther east. Transported once more amongst the scenes of his
childhood, he felt an increased impetus to production, and when he
returned to Barbizon late in 1871, he brought with him a number of
canvases of the highest quality; conspicuous amongst them was the
wonderful "Gréville Church," now in the Louvre.

The anxieties of his troublous life were, however, beginning to show
their effect upon his constitution; a persistent cough developed, and
although an amelioration would occasionally occur, it was always
succeeded by a worse condition than before. His health suffered a
general decline, and he finally breathed his last on the 20th of
January 1875. He was buried in the little cemetery of Chailly, beside
his friend Rousseau, amidst the scenery they both loved so well.



VI

THE MAN AND HIS ART


Millet is an instance of an artist working out his own destiny,
impelled by irresistible genius, in the teeth of seemingly
insurmountable obstacles. He started life with enormous disadvantages;
without friends in influential circles to spread his fame or plead his
cause; without money to enable him to outlive and triumph over the
ignorant fanaticism of critics and artists, so soaked in the
conventionalised art of their time that they had not perception enough
to appreciate the full meaning of that naturalistic movement, which
was finally to sweep away the quasi-classic art they boasted of with
such bombastic effusion. The path was hard and thorny, and his triumph
was not finally consummated until after his death. He himself found
his only satisfaction in the fact that he had lived his life according
to the dictates of his genius, and had achieved the maximum of which
he was capable.

Millet and our own Cotman were somewhat kindred spirits; there is much
more affinity between the work of the two men than is apparent to any
one who has not closely studied them. The marvellous "Breaking the
Clod," now happily permanently housed at the British Museum, betrays
the same tremendous conception and broad outlook which characterises
many a drawing of Millet's. Both highly strung to a painful extent,
they were each conscious of their inability to curb the power which
prescribed a certain course for them, and in spite of pecuniary
difficulties and unpopularity, an inevitable result of their intense
originality, they pursued a steady course to the end of their lives.

The socialistic doctrines which have been read into the work of Millet
are rather the outcome of the world's uneasy conscience being brought
face to face with a crushing indictment of existing conditions, than
of any design on the artist's part to further the cause of a political
propaganda by means of his art. This somewhat extravagant reading into
his art has certainly been carried to excess. Particularly has such
been the case in America, where a large number of his finest works are
at present to be found, curiously enough in the hands of enormously
wealthy people, who are frequently perhaps the least able to
understand the real meaning of his message.

Coming from a peasant stock, his sympathies were always with the
peasant; it was the only class he understood or cared for. He lived as
one of them, and shared to a large extent in their labour. He has been
designated, not inappropriately, the philosopher in sabots. Rightly or
wrongly he has come to be looked upon as one of the high priests of
communistic doctrines. Few pictures have been so anathematised as the
"Man with the Hoe," and perhaps none have done more to inculcate
sympathy with the degradation of the lower orders of the human race.
The revolting brutality and vacancy of that face haunts the
imagination. Is it possible that fellow-creatures so utterly debased
by toil and neglect exist? Millet dispels any doubt upon the question
by bequeathing to humanity this trenchant portrait. By no means
limited to Barbizon or France, these poor creatures exist in every
country, and curiously enough are considered an essential element in
each country's development.

This poignantly human note is observable in almost every work Millet
wrought; his passionate sympathy with his fellow-man is the keynote of
his art. The wood-cutter in his arduous toil, the shepherd in his
solitariness, the labourer turning the soil with unvarying and
laborious monotony, the mother caring for her children--all carry the
same message for him of that strange and incomprehensible mingling of
joy and sadness we call life. Like many great minds before and since
his time, our artist found the greatest joy in life in a placid and
never changing melancholy. But the peasants he chose knew nothing of
the sadness he saw in them. Completely inured to their toil, and
subdued by it, with no refining or uplifting influence to stimulate
them, they knew nothing, aspired to nothing beyond what they were; it
was left to Millet to supply the "might have been." He saw the inky
blackness of the mind of the "Man with the Hoe," the pathetic
inequality between the mounted farmer directing the safe storage of
his crop, and the stooping figures of the "Gleaners" eager to scrape
up the miserable crumbs which had fallen from the rich man's table. He
traced the lives of these simple folk until we arrive at the grim and
gaunt figure of Death, who, as he grasps the woodman by the shoulder,
reminds him that his course is finished and that he, in common with
all his fellow-men, must enter the great unknown land from which there
is no return. It is a sad and melancholy art, vibrating with purity
and truth, the outpouring of a great soul yearning to express itself
to the utmost of its power. The mind and character of the man can be
read in every line and in every touch of the brush. His drawings and
etchings are even more searching in their virility than his pictures.
There is a spontaneousness about them we search for in vain in his
work in oil and pastel. In black and white his intensely emotional
mind found a swift method of expression; in the laboriousness of oil
painting he was fettered with the complications of the medium. It can
be fairly said that only in one or two paintings--a notable example
can be cited in the wondrous "Sawyers" at South Kensington--does he
rise to the height of a great painter. Millet was a poet, a
philosopher, a great thinker, and the means he chose for expressing
himself were those which were best fitted to his purpose. His
predilections in art were concentrated upon the greatest, and
consequently the men who appealed to him were the thinkers of the
ages. Mantegna and Correggio, Michel Angelo and the mighty Greeks,
these were the masters who left their impress upon his mind and art.

The influence of so sincere and profound an artist has necessarily
been profound. He has moulded men who have achieved world-wide fame;
Segantini, for example, would never have risen to the heights he did
had the example of Millet not been ever before him. There have been
many who, without possessing his genius, have endeavoured to follow
in his footsteps, but successfully as his imitators have sometimes
caught his style, their productions can never live alongside his,
because they lack the real ring of sincerity.


The plates are printed by BEMROSE & SONS, LTD., Derby and London

The text at the BALLANTYNE PRESS, Edinburgh





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