The French artist Jean-François Millet (1814 – 1875) along with Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot ( 1796 – 1875) were founders of the Barbizon movement. Instead of working only in the studio, they established a tradition of painting (plein air) outdoors. Millet is best known for sympathetic paintings of rustic peasant farmers. The public was often unenthusiastic, even hostile, to Millet’s paintings exhibited at the French Salon since the artist’s political sympathies were suspect. I find this difficult to understand because Bouguereau often painted peasants as well. Millet’s work was a great influence on Vincent van Gogh and later in the 20th century, Salvador Dali had a pathological obsession with his painting The Angelus.
Since Millet is known for painting peasants, it was a pleasant surprise to discover his romantic painting Spring (Daphnis and Chloë). The subject of Daphnis holding a nest of baby birds as Chloë tries to feed them reflects a great originality as well as tenderness. Apparently, Millet must have been familiar with ancient literature for him to paint this rather obscure subject. Occasionally, 19th century artists painted Daphnis and Chloë but I have not seen other works depicting this charming scene. The tale of Daphnis and Chloë is attributed to the ancient Greek poet Longus. The tale concerns two abandoned children who are raised by herdsmen and grow up to fulfill their mutual love.
I’m rather impressed with Millet’s rendering of the figures, since his peer Corot never fair well with them. The contrasted warm and cool flesh tones of the girl make her stunning. The hatching strokes show a deep understanding of how to model a figure. It’s a great shame that Millet didn’t paint more Romantic figures.
Millet’s Goose Girl is the only other nude figure I know of by the artist. This painting seems to be better known but I don’t think it’s as impressive as Daphnis and Chloë. The bathing girl resembles Chloe, perhaps Millet painted the same model for both paintings.