Jill Newhouse Gallery opens an exhibition of nineteen works on paper by Jean Francois Millet
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Jill Newhouse Gallery opens an exhibition of nineteen works on paper by Jean Francois Millet
Jean Francois Millet, The Path Lined with Trees, Vichy, c. 1866–67. Watercolor and pen and black ink on paper laid down on card, 4 7/16 x 6 5/8 inches.

NEW YORK, NY.- Jill Newhouse Gallery, in cooperation with Galerie de Bayser, Paris presents the first show in the United States dedicated to the drawings of Jean-Franšois Millet (1814-1875). On view are nineteen works on paper in all media including graphite, ink, watercolor and pastel showing the full range of this important artist’s work.

J.F. Millet was one of the greatest Realist painters of the 19th century, but his reputation has been traditionally defined by his three best known works, The Sower (1850), The Gleaners(1857), and The Angelus (1857-9) which were often seen as overly sentimentalized portrayals of life in rural France in the mid 19th century. Seen through the lens of his works on paper, Millet’s art can now be newly viewed as radical and modern, both in the use of medium and in the creation of images which are a homage to a moment in time that was rapidly disappearing.

Among the great Realist artists of the nineteenth century, J. F. Millet was the “peasant” painter par excellence. His obituary summed up the classist views of mid-19th century France and the way many poor artists were viewed among their peers: “…he was the son of a peasant, lived the greater part of his life amongst the peasant class, and was accustomed to dress as if his only occupation was to tend the sheepfold and help in the garnering of the harvest.” Millet himself put it even more succinctly: “Peasant I was born and peasant I will die.”

Indeed, no one is more closely connected to the theme of rural workers than Millet, whose upbringing endowed him with a deeper and more intimate understanding of his world than any artist of his day. But his brand of Realism – depicting sturdy peasants involved in their daily humble labors such as basket making, gleaning, milling grain, or herding sheep– was intended to dignify the plight of the common man, and to normalize the depiction of day-to-day life. In using Old Masters, such as the monumental figures of Michelangelo or the folk simplicity of the Le Nain, as inspiration, Millet was able to create timeless and exalted representations of common men and women.

Copied and collected by artists from Van Gogh, Pissarro, Monet, Dali and Picasso, the work of J.F. Millet was created at a moment of great social and artistic change. His cast of characters - the farmers and laborers, millers, basket makers, and laundresses going about their daily chores - are portrayed by Millet as the heroes and heroines of a world that was slipping away to industrialization and social change.

The show begins with two rare drawings of nudes- most likely modelled by the artist’s young second wife Catherine Lemaire. Sensual, lyrical and erotic, these drawings show the beginning of the way in which Millet would portray his real life (although he did not return to the nude after 1850).

Works from the 1850’s are comprised of images of millers, basket makers, potato farmers, including the important drawing Study of a Woman Taking Water from a Well, only recently recognized as a study for a painting in The Princeton Museum of Art.
Drawings from the 1860’s show us Millet’s rare, unpopulated landscapes, done on the occasion of family trips to Vichy, in the hope of taking the medicinal waters to cure the ills of his wife. These works reveal a Japanese influenced economy of line that also recalls the work of Rembrandt and the artists of the Dutch 17th century that so inspired the Barbizon school. These depictions of winding roads and anonymous houses show us the scenery and environment of the life that Millet so loved and hoped to preserve.

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