The Painter Jean Francois Millet in My Eyes

If Delacroix were a romantic hero, then Millet would be in another type although they were probably in an era. He never admitted that others made the use of "hero" to describe himself and he would rather to be a farmer, since the land and painting had a comparable attraction.

Jean Francois Millet was a controversial painter in the 19th century of France. With a very poor life, he once came to the capital of art—Paris, but he found there was anything else other than Louvre that he could bear. His religious heart hared the debauchery of vulgarity of Paris. Living in poverty, he had to copy the painting of rococo painter Boucher and Watteau which he hated most to exchange bread. But in his heart, he always admired Michelangelo and Poussin. He finally left Paris and found his place in Barbizon and rural areas. His wearing was not better than the farmers. In fact, he would do farm work when he did not paint. He had married twice and owned many children. Sometimes his children could barely make ends meet, but he and his wife had been angry for two days. Sometimes when one of his friends took the relief funds, the frozen painter could get up to buy a bundle of firewood to warm him. His poor mother begged him before dying, "I do not know how to live and how to commit suicide, and I just want to see you again". But Millet had no money to return home. He was so poor and sufferings seemed to "a lifelong brother" in his whole life. However, what was confusing was that there was an amazing and holy peace in his paintings.

The Angelus 1859

The Angelus 1859

The first time that I saw Millet's paintings was in the course slide of an art teacher. The famous painting The Angelus depicted a pair of men and women who worked in the farmland with a single wheel car around. When the bells in the distant church rang, then they put down the farm implements and bowed their heads to pray. At that time, I even did not know who Millet was. My first intuition told me that this painter was surely a poet. The dense, harmonious and lofty picture was more easily to be touched by people than the religious painting. These two simple farmers stood in a vast farmland like two immoral Greek cylinders. In this moving moment, their looks were so concentrated and religious that the viewers could hear the melodious bells.

I remembered this great painter. Later I gradually knew most of his paintings were concerned with ordinary farmers, which could be proved by the names of his works, such as The Sower, The Lunch of the Harvester, The Gleaners, Lifting up the calf. After I saw his brochures, I found the impression from Evening Bell was totally embodied in these paintings. Only the painter who lived in a so poor environment with a pure and calm heart could make such paintings.

After Millet's death, Van Gogh visited his exhibition and drew the The Potato Eaters with had similar themes. In Van Gogh's letter to his brother, he emotionally said, "I want to show this kind of people in the canvas who had very rough hands to get these potatoes". His painting was filled with suffering tears, ugly figure's cruelty of life, and too many feelings. Eventually Van Gogh got mad.

But Millet did not. If he had thought of suicide in desperation, his religious belief would never allow him to do that. He made it through. In his time, there were many painters suffering a lot similar to him. The best friend of Millet--Theodore Rousseau became crazy and paralyzed. The only thing that Millet had difference with him was that Millet could live in suffering and bravely accept the real life. You could not find any complaint in his paintings. Instead, he showed sympathy for the rich life. When he saw those people with lost soul, he inevitably felt the superiority of the life of the peasants.

Living in this world, he never enjoyed any happiness. When he was a child, the priest of the village emotionally said to him, "Your warm heart will bring you a lot of trouble and suffering, but you never know about this". The priest's prophecy was correct. Millet never expressed his anxiety and frustration in his painting, but he did have most melancholy soul. Artists were quite familiar with such soul which brought ordinary people much pain and made them feel living in sadness all the time. But this soul was also the source of artists' inspiration and an irreplaceable bitter joy. Millet once said, "Art is not a pastime. It is a struggle and a complex wheel that shows much pressure. I am not a philosopher, and I have no expectation to find a formula to get rid of vulgarity and bearish things. Suffering could endow artists with the maximum expression".

What he said was deeply carved in my heart like a nail. Such suffering made him to discover the power of the saints from farmers. Those people whose faces streaming with perspiration that could make ends meet were the most magnificent human epic in Millet's heart. There was the most sharp but hidden conflict between human and nature in his calm canvas. Some people have criticized his colors, but Millet was never a color painter. His art source was from Michelangelo and Poussin, who were never color painters. They focused more on "style" and would sacrifice color without any hesitation in order to shape what they wanted, since the color had too much temptation.

We can imagine such an artist who was so simple like the clay and strongly adhered to his own artistic principles could not get the understanding and love from his fellows. God put him in the wrong place. He was incompatible with the French spirit. Millet was misunderstood by both sides from his friends and enemies. But this farmer in wooden shoes never cared and needed to be understood. What he needed to do was painting.

In his later years, Millet's life improved a lot, but too late. Soon he died on Jan.20, 1875. Like all the great artists, before his death, Millet was misunderstood, after his death, he was ushered lots of praises. His paintings were sold in the price that he could never imagine. People began to admire him. Romain Rolland wrote a nice and deep biography for him and all the art galleries in the world started to take pride in owning his works. Will he be happy? Maybe yes, but it was hard to say. His heart had an enviable tranquility which could not be disturbed by human cheers or defame. He once said the happiest thing was to lie in the woods and see the changes of clouds in the sky. His paintings were the most accurate portrayal of himself.

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