Jean François Millet: The Millet Exhibition in Paris

IN the Louvre there are only two unimportant works by Jean François Millet : a small landscape of the church of Gréville. and a study of some bathers, painted while the artist was still seeking his way. In the Luxembourg Museum there is a pastel of a woman churning, and a black-and-white drawing. From such relatively insignificant elements, and from the occasional sight of a picture passing through a public sale, the younger generations in Paris have not been able to form an opinion as to the merits of this famous Millet, about whom they have heard so much, and whose critics claim for their idol such a high and comprehensive place in the hierarchy of the great and eternal artists. The announcement that a collective exhibition of the artist’s work was to be organized at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, in the months of May and June, by a committee formed for the purpose of obtaining subscriptions for the erection of a statue to the memory of Millet, was, therefore, received with satisfaction. The opening day was awaited with impatience, and during the first few weeks the public flocked eagerly to see the seventy oilpaintings, fifty pastels, and one hundred drawings which constituted this exhibition, whose nature and object had been clearly explained in many preliminary newspaper articles. We were given to understand that the exhibition was intended to be a rehabilitation and an apotheosis of Millet, under the supreme patronage of the state, of the Institute, and of the leaders of contemporary art, whose names figured on the list of the committee ; that it was a glorious compensation for the long series of wrongs which had formed the cortége of Millet’s life ; and, finally, that it marked the closing victory of the admirers of the artist over his detractors. Furthermore, we were reminded that Millet had “ suffered,” and copious extracts were offered from the sombre pages of his biographer.1

But these considerations and these retrospective details are only of secondary interest at this moment. One can understand that the intelligent elder critics who praised Millet, out of conviction or out of bravado, at a time when the jury of the Salon refused his pictures, feel some satisfaction when they reflect that they have lived to see their hero placed on a pedestal which is, perhaps, dangerously lofty. The speculators who have forced up the market price of Millet’s work must also feel flattered by this official recognition of the rectitude of their judgment and of the perspicacity of their financiering. Such sentiments, however, are entirely foreign to the real question at issue, which is the intrinsic worth of the painter whose collected work is presented to the public for the first time to face the judgment and receive the consecration of posterity. For Millet is already an old master, and the judgment of to-day is the judgment of posterity.

In such circumstances, and in presence of the artist’s work displayed before our eyes, we are not tempted to pay much heed to anecdotes concerning his moral history. Indeed, the stronger the fascination of an artist, and the more single and absolute the artistic charm of his work, the briefer need be his biography. As regards Millet, it suffices us to know that he was a peasant, born of peasants at Gruchy, near Cherbourg, in 1814. After having spent his youth tilling the soil, he showed some aptitude for drawing, and, with the aid of a modest annuity paid by the municipality of Cherbourg, he was enabled to come to Paris to study art. There, at the age of twenty-two, he entered the studio of Paul Delaroche ; but, disregarding the manner of his master, he tried to acquire a more solid and richer technique by studying the old masters in the Louvre. The apprenticeship of the heavy peasant was long and difficult, and it was only in 1848 that he finally abandoned the pursuit of processes and delicacies of touch, and attempted boldly to express his ideal, which he had meanwhile discovered in the figures and scenes of French rural life. In 1849 he settled at Barbizon, on the borders of the forest of Fontainebleau, where he remained down to the time of his death in 1875, living like a patriarch, and painting the active drama of rustic life. Until during the later years of his career, Millet, it may be added, was disdained by his contemporaries in general ; but nowadays his works bring fabulous prices, and the French repeat with pride that an American amateur has ineffectually offered half a million francs for the celebrated picture the Angelus, which measures twenty-five by twentyone inches, and is not incontestably Millet’s masterpiece.

Let us examine the exhibition, which, though incomplete as regards the number of pictures, is nevertheless complete as a historical collection of Millet’s work, and fairly representative as regards the quality of the works exhibited. In short, it is sufficiently comprehensive to enable us to apply perhaps the only reasonable method of criticism, which consists in inquiring what has been the artist’s aim ; whether he has succeeded in that aim; whether he has succeeded in an excellent way ; whether that which he aimed at was worth doing; and, finally, whether his achievement entitles him to a place beside the masters of acknowledged greatness. On entering the exhibition, we naturally look first of all at those pictures which have the greatest reputation, namely, the Angelus, La Gardeuse de Moutons, L’Homme à la Houe, L’Homme à la Veste, La Lessiveuse, Les Glaneuses, La Tondeuse de Moutons, Berger au Parc la Nuit, La Baratteuse, La Baigneuse, Le Printemps. The first impression is one of disappointment. What, is this the Angelus ? Is this the reputed masterpiece of the great landscapist Millet, of the great painter of peasant life, who is described by the enthusiasts as being great amongst the very greatest ? What are they doing, those two peasants who bow their heads over a basket of potatoes ? Decidedly, that irreverent wit, Manet, was right: the picture represents “ la bénédiction des pommes de terre.” But what time of day is it ? Is that meant for an evening sky ? An enthusiastic spectator, who has been reading Sensier’s book, professes to hear the angelus bell ringing from the distant village steeple, and refers me to the description of the picture in the catalogue, which I refuse absolutely to decipher, animated by a spirit of logic similar to that of the gourmet, who, when he entered a restaurant, and the waiter handed him a voluminous bill of fare, replied, “ No : I have come here to eat, not to read.” So in a picture exhibition, none but lame or incomplete efforts need catalogue annotations, or printed explanations on the frame. The signification of a picture ought to be as immediately obvious as its physical charm is direct and instantaneous ; and in the greatest painting the physical charm of the picture fascinates the eye before the subject or pretext of the picture becomes intelligibly visible. In the Angelus the eye is not charmed, astonished, and ravished by purely picturesque means, by the beauty of the tone, by the harmony of the colors, by the suavity or majesty of the forms. Practically, the picture is a drawing in sepia, on a background of green field and gray sky tinged with red ; but these color elements are insufficiently harmonized, and each tone is neither studied carefully as color seen in the diffused light of open air, nor is it treated frankly as the conventional coloring of clothes, fields, or sky; it is something between the two, something hesitating in means and meagre in effect. As for the figures, will any one venture to find majesty in the silhouette of the spindlelegged peasant, or suavity in the uneasy pose of the woman ? No ; we have only to compare this composition with the Shepherdess knitting at the head of her flock, with the Gleaners, with the Diggers, with the Sower, or with the Shepherd leaning on his staff, known as the Berger à la Limousine, in order to feel at once that the Angelus is not the most felicitous composition which Millet ever made, and that the two figures, whose attitude of prayer has contributed more than anything else to make the picture popular, really contain very little of that simple and impressive eloquence of gesture and of silhouette which was the artist’s strong point. That the work is instinct with religious sentiment is, of course, undeniable ; that it appeals immediately and powerfully to the religious sentiments of the spectators is also undeniable : but this only shows that the picture possesses in a high degree qualities and means of attraction which are not primarily and essentially artistic. In the Angelus, and in the majority of the oil-paintings in the exhibition, the eye is offended by a heavy, coarse, and painful execution, which gives to all the objects the appearance of a woolly texture, and rests satisfied with summary coloring where one expects a delicate distribution of tones and values, and a subtle application of means of light and shade, or chiaro-oscuro, which is nothing more than the art of rendering atmosphere visible, and of painting an object enveloped in air, — an art whose object is to create all the picturesque accidents of shade, of half-tint and light, of relief and distance, and thereby to give, whether to forms or to colors, more variety, more unity of effect, and more relative truth. The two figures in the Angelus stand out from the landscape flatly, in hard silhouette and without an envelope of air, and the landscape is laid in heavily, and without that observation of the effect of air on distances and of those delicate photometric phenomena which have occupied the attention of the great landscapists, from Claude Lorraine down to Théodore Rousseau and the moderns, who are now working with and constantly increasing the vocabulary which Rousseau created, in order to express the multitude of new sensations which his implacable and tireless eye received from nature. Modern painting, whether of the French, the Scandinavian, or the German schools, which are alone worthy of recognition as active and vivifying influences in contemporary art, is remarkable neither for its splendor of color nor for its culte of beautiful forms, but for its study of the phenomena of light and shade. The vision of our painters seems to have become finer ; by constant observation they have acquired a subtle notion of differences; and at the same time that their eyes and their instruments of expression have become more delicately sensitive, their souls, too, have become conscious of the gayety, the poetry, and the dramatic qualities of light. This intellectual and technical widening of the domain of art is the outcome of the landscape art of Théodore Rousseau, and of the researches of the open-air and impressionist schools which followed in the wake of this magnificent genius. Since 1830 there has been a constant progress towards light in French painting, and a constant effort to enrich the technical language, and to render it adequate to the expression of the thousand new secrets which that sphinx, Nature, has confided to those who have interrogated her with respectful yet indefatigable obstinacy. Compare a picture by Théodore Rousseau, or a landscape by J. C. Cazin or Emile Barau, for instance, with a picture of the same order by Ruysdael or Hobbema, and you will find that the differences are as great as those which exist between a page of Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions and a page of description by Gustave Flaubert. In the case of the modern landscapists and of the modern prose-writers the same effort will be remarked, the same breadth of studies, the same result in their works. The term is more precise, the observation more rare and sensitive, the palette richer, the color more expressive ; even the construction is more scrupulous. If the old Dutch masters could come to life again, they would be astounded at such abundance of scruples and stupefied at such faculties of analysis.

In the Angelus we look in vain for that direct charm of general aspect which captivates us in the works of the greatest painters, — Velasquez, Titian, Rembrandt, Leonardo, Veronese, Giorgione, Terburg, Metzu, Pieter de Hooghe ; we look in vain for those qualities of technique and analysis which touch us so deeply in the old Dutch masters and in contemporary work since Rousseau. The observation displayed by Millet in this picture is neither rare nor artistically sensitive ; his color is neither expressive nor true ; and the whole importance of the work lies in the subject, in the gesture, in the intention, and in the sentiment; or, in other words, the interest of the Angelus is mainly a literary interest. The drawing of the Angelus in black and white by Millet himself, or the etching by Charles Waltner, contains the whole essence and the entire sentiment of the picture. The oil-painting possesses no additional charm due to the color, which might more truly be called " coloring ; ” and, on the other hand, it lacks that quality of envelope and atmosphere which the engraver has communicated to his excellent interpretation of the work.

Without wearying the reader by analyzing one by one the most important oil-paintings in this exhibition, I will sum up my impressions briefly, in order the sooner to defend myself against the accusation of sustaining a paradox in thus running counter to opinions which have been, it is true, for the most part set forth by newspaper rhetoricians rather than by critics who have really seen the Angelus and who have studied Millet’s painting. The first thing that strikes one, after a general examination of the exhibition, supplemented by a reference to the catalogues of Millet’s entire works, is the fewness of his productions, the limited effort even of his most important pictures, the narrowness of his range of observation, and the persistent painfulness of his artistic activity. The work of his early years betrays terrible struggles between an eager brain and an unwilling hand, and rarely is there a trace of joy in the result, except, now and then, in some fragmentary nude study, such, for instance, as the exquisite and luminous morceau in the collection of Mr. Albert Spencer, of New York, and several sketches in the present exhibition. Sometimes, too, in broad studies of sea and cliffs, hastily dashed off, there is promise of coming mastery, and in the blooming orchard and the rainbow sky of Le Printemps we find a rich and vigorous touch which seems to have been little more than a happy accident; for when, later in life, Millet paints his two most remarkable landscapes, the Plain at Sunset and the Plain in Winter, he seems to have had but a rebellious and brutal instrument wherewith to render the moving grandeur of these impressive scenes, in which there are only two mute actors, the earth and the sky. Let it not be forgotten that control of his tools is a mark of the master, and that in the work of the really great men the execution is remarkable for a directness and easy simplicity which betray no effort and offer no key to the mysterious means employed to produce the result. The characteristic of the great masters is that, like nature, they do not reveal the way in which they produce; their facture consists precisely in concealing their processes : so that we may say, on the authority of all the masterpieces, that a picture is finished only when all trace of the means used to bring about the end has disappeared.

Taking Millet’s work as a whole, its chief interest is moral and literary rather than artistic; the qualities which predominated in the man were moral and literary rather than artistic; and it is by the intentions, by the subjects, by the preachings, of his work that he has finally captivated public attention. You cannot talk about Millet’s work without talking about the man, whose character, aspirations, and moral and social aims are deeply impressed on every picture or drawing that he made. Of peasant origin, Millet rose very high by his own unaided strength and will ; but like all those whose early education has been neglected, his thought was not always unclouded, nor his mental attitude without bitter and narrowing souvenirs. In his first studies at Paris, while he was acquiring in the Louvre his laborious and rude facture of successive impasto, layer upon layer, he fell under the influence of Michael Angelo, whom he studied in engravings. This first influence trained his eye to magnify the silhouette and to seek excessive abbreviation in drawing, coinciding with an immense and painful accumulation of intentions and latent meaning, which were consequently rather confused. From this moment there existed a perpetual combat in Millet between his natural peasant’s sincerity, which made him love reality, and his taste for idealism, which prompted him to broaden and magnify everything. After a period of hesitation, Millet found his true path, and imposed upon himself a mission ; for it must not be forgotten that Millet was not only a peasant, but a Norman, and therefore half an Englishman, — a serious and contemplative man, who read his Bible with the conviction of a millenarian of the times of Cromwell. Millet had a good heart and a sad temperament. Transplanted from his natural milieu into more refined and intellectual surroundings, his strong personality resisted complete acclimatization, and rejected the softening influence of the amenities of existence, while his memory retained the souvenir only of the hardships, the melancholy, the austerity, of the life of the peasants, in whom his Bible readings inclined him to see always and everywhere the fallen creature of Genesis, condemned to eat his bread eternally in the sweat of his brow. These creatures he depicts solely in the occupations of their daily life of drudgery. But is there no joy for the peasant ? we ask, after contemplating Millet’s work. It is true, we see here a mother feeding her three little children on the doorsill; here a father receiving with open arms a baby boy, who runs to meet him as he approaches his cottage ; here a little peasant girl bathing on a summer afternoon ; here two shepherd girls neglecting their duty for a moment, and watching with happy upturned faces the flight of birds of passage across the autumnal sky. But this is all. Is there then nothing new in this peasant life ? Children are born : are there no fêtes? Peasants die: is there no mourning ? Peasants marry and are given in marriage : are there no decorous fêtes ? Peasants bargain and buy and sell. Peasants love ; furtively, it is true, and with timid courtship, but still they love, and the exasperation of wine and of love engenders strife. Millet has omitted these animated aspects of peasant life, and confined himself almost exclusively to the incidents of the struggle between the peasant and the earth, his harsh nursing-mother. He enumerates solcmnly the incidents, the scenery, and the accessories of this combat, its defeats and its triumphs, just as we find them depicted in the shepherd’s calendars of the Middle Ages, and in the precious miniatures of the mediæval artists of Tours : the storm that menaces the dry hay; the sun that gilds the straw ; the harvest that falls a rich prey to the sickle ; the fertile earth wrapped in an icy shroud of snow ; the plough paralyzed and frozen in the furrow ; the black frost which condemns the laborer to abandon the fields; the mother at home tending her baby, or teaching her daughter to knit; the evening watch, when the husband weaves an osier basket and the wife stitches industriously; the weary harvesters sleeping at noon under the shadow of a rick ; the return from the fields ; the shepherd, half doctor, half astronomer, guarding his sheep on the lonely moonlit plain; the sunrise glistening on the dewy grass; the autumn sky slashed by the flight of migratory birds ; the falling leaves; the red sun setting in melancholy splendor on the distant horizon of a long, deserted moor.

Such are the subjects which Millet painted, choosing deliberately those of serious and superior interest, as if he had set himself the mission of rehabilitating the peasant, and of demonstrating the nobleness of the occupation of the class from which he himself had sprung. Each picture was made with the consciousness of a moral purpose, and from memory and by fixed intellectual processes ; for it is a well-known fact that Millet rarely or ever used models, seldom worked in the open air, and even painted many of his pictures in a room so small that he could scarcely stand far enough away from his canvas to see the ensemble. Throughout it was the subject, the gesture, the sentimental intention of the landscape and of the effect, which occupied his attention. He painted with the ever-present consciousness of being the graphic poet of peasant life, who sought in nature and reality only the elements and basis of his ideal synthesis. Indeed, when I think of Millet’s life at Barbizon, his persistent attachment to the garb, the accent, and even the wooden sabots of the peasant, his attitude of a patriarch in the midst of his family, his nightly Bible readings, his declared purpose to portray the dignity of agricultural life ; and above all, when I see his collected works, and when I analyze the spirit that pervades them, I cannot help thinking that there was not a little affectation in the painter’s manner of being, just a little theatrical arrangement, a mere suspicion of pose pour la galerie, the slightest shade of professional martyrdom. From the beginning Millet is a révolté. When he enters the studio of Delaroche, then all effervescent with the passions and controversies of the Romantic movement, he remains untouched by the generous enthusiasm of his fellow-students ; helpless as he is, and ignorant in the manual part of his art, he despises his master, and seeks to acquire a manner of his own by laborious and blundering contemplation of Ribera and of the old Spaniards in the Louvre. Vainly he seeks, by borrowed inspiration, to see charming visions of nature in his pictures of mythological fancies. His heavy, serious, and almost fanatical peasant nature asserts itself in spite of himself. Diaz tells him one day that his nymphs are simply red-handed Norman dairymaids. The reproach piques him, and helps to decide his future. Peasant he is ; peasant he will remain; and peasants and peasant life will henceforward form the only subject of his thoughts, of his brush, and of his pencil. And so Millet becomes a sort of melancholy Burns ; only his language is less clear than the racy verse of the Scotch poet. He expresses himself in formulæ where the thought has more vigor and precision than the hand. In other words, we come back to the conclusion that the chief interest of Millet’s work is literary rather than properly artistic.

Take any subject treated by Millet, — the Sower, Midday Rest, the Gleaners, the Falling Leaves. In the present exhibition we find, with very few exceptions, each picture in three different presentations: a drawing in black and white, a drawing more or less heightened by pastel, and finally an oilpainting. Many of the subjects have also been treated by Millet in dry-point etchings. Now, it will generally be found that the whole of Millet’s thought and sentiment is conveyed by the blackand-white drawing; so that when we have seen the drawing first, it will often happen that the painted picture disappoints. In the case of the Angelus,

I imagine that ninety-nine persons out of a hundred, who have become familiar with the composition from Waltner’s etching, would be cruelly disappointed by the original picture. But in all Millet’s compositions, whether we look at the drawing, at the pastel, or at the oilpainting, we observe that the artist attaches chief importance to the silhouette of human beings and inanimate objects, and to the generalization of the different planes of his picture ; that is to say, to the elements which summarize the thought and the signification. The color plays only a secondary rôle, which we shall examine further on. Millet sees his peasants in the performance of their functions, just as he sees landscape in its characteristic aspects. The making of each picture is preceded by a preliminary process of thought, of synthesis, and of idealization. He remarks the toil of the gleaners, which bends them towards the ground and makes their backs ache, and he depicts three women gleaning with broad, sweeping gestures, their faces and arms burnt brick-red by the sun ; in the background, toilers of a higher grade are binding the sheaves under the watchful eye of the farmer, who sits on his horse, personifying the sedentary ease of capital in comparison with the hopeless monotony of labor. In one composition, a shepherd, enveloped in a voluminous cloak, leans on his staff, the image of resignation and loneliness. Another composition shows us a vine-dresser, sweating, sunburnt, his feet dusty, his arms hanging loosely between his legs, his hands knotted and tortuous like an old vine-stock, his mouth open, his eye dull, his stupid brow incapable of thought; here is a sower striding along the furrow, and scattering the seed with august gesture; here are two delvers digging the field, and watering the soil with the sweat of their brow. These are indeed the idealized forms of those same peasants whom La Bruyère introduced to the court of Louis XIV., “ those creatures who spare other men the trouble of sowing, and of tilling, and of gathering in the harvest, and so merit not to want that bread which they have sown.” Not that Millet is to be reproached with the ugliness of his figures, although there are in reality peasants fair to see, just as there are joyous aspects of peasant life. But the Biblical Millet disdains all that is charming and amiable in peasant life, or sees it only rarely, on a few sunny days, such as those when he painted the Gardeuse d’Oies bathing in a sylvan stream, and the Voyageurs Egarés, to whom an obliging shepherd indicates the lost path. In Millet’s most serious work the peasant is one with nature, — a type, an ideal silhouette in the grand ensemble ; and the beauty he seeks is not the beauty of feature or of epiderm, but that more abstract and ideal beauty which exists in the well-ordered proportions of the skeleton, in freedom and flexibility of limb, and in the logical and physiognomic notation of professional gesture, attitude, and costume. The drawing of Millet is truly remarkable in its abbreviation and intense signification. Generally the faces are mere types; the folds of the dress are reduced to those which mark the projection of the shoulder, the elbow, the breasts, the hips, and the knee ; the whole expression of the figure is concentrated in the general silhouette. So, too, in the landscape, the foreground is treated with summary and rugged breadth; the background is indicated in the briefest notation of successive planes ; the sky and light are blocked in with the fewest possible strokes and rubbings ; and the whole forms a firm résumé by which the artist’s thought is presented in the most concise and suggestive manner.

Though Millet’s drawings in black and white often suffice, it cannot be denied that the thought of the artist acquires an additional charm in his pastels, which are in every respect incomparably superior to his oil-paintings. Between 1864 and 1870 drawings in black and white and drawings more or less heightened by pastel absorbed Millet’s attention almost entirely, and there is every reason to believe that the final judgment of his productions will pronounce the pastels to be the artist’s most perfect mode of expression ; whereas posterity will often be inclined to excuse the juries of past Salons for having refused his badly executed oil-paintings, in spite of their qualities of another kind which give them a sufficient raison d’être. But even in the pastels we see how truly the literary interest of Millet’s work predominated over the artistic interest, even in the mind of the painter himself : in each case the primary expression of the subject is the silhouette, the gesture, the attitude, and not the effect nor the arrangement of color. That which belongs to the impalpable, like the backgrounds, the envelope, shades, and gradations, the effect of the air on the distances and of the full daylight on the colors, Millet considers only secondarily, and generally incompletely. His first care is for the silhouette, for the hieroglyphic which sums up the function, for the characteristic lines which convey the moral signification, the idea, the human sentiment, which is always expressed with extraordinary terseness and direct power. To this expression of his thought, complete in itself, Millet has added a certain abbreviated notation of color; indicating, for example, in the drawing of the Midday Rest, the color of the garments of the sleepers ; and in another black-and-white drawing warming the sky with a few touches of rose, which intensify the evening effect indirectly and by suggestion. Indeed, it may be said generally that in these pastels the color is simply suggestive, much in the same manner as Millet’s abbreviated drawing is suggestive. While presenting the artist’s thought in its most summary and abstract form, Millet’s grand silhouettes suffice to set the imagination of the spectator at work; and, provided we can accustom ourselves to the terse and uncouth means of expression, we find a certain literary and moral pleasure in embroidering our own thoughts and sentiments on the canvas where Millet has sketched the grandiose guiding lines. So, too, the touches of pastel color, which are disposed more or less thinly and streakily over the coarse basis of his black-and-white drawings, rarely pretend to do more than to direct the mind to the sensation of a particular color, existing as an element in the general aspect of nature, and not to the study of the real aspect of color in nature. Thus in the charming composition known as Falling Leaves, the shepherd sheltered behind the tree trunk is black and white ; the tree trunks are slightly tinted with green, to indicate lichen and weatherstains ; the ground, in black and white, is tinted with a darker green, vaguely corresponding to a faded shade of grassgreen ; and the clearness of the sky is indicated by a few strokes of blue and rose, which are repeated broadly, and mingled with greens and browns to indicate the fugitive nuances of the landscape and the horizon. In other words, the color in Millet’s pastels is generally a summary notation of additional facts which could not be conveniently registered in black and white ; it is not color observed and rendered for the sake of color and of the charm that color gives, or even for the sake of truly depicting the real color of nature. Millet did not frequently execute drawings wholly in colored crayons : generally his pastels are strictly black - and - white drawings, rehaussés or heightened with pastel ; often the color applied is purely conventional, and suggests the effect of fresco painting, in which one often thinks that Millet might have excelled had the opportunity been offered to him. Millet’s technical qualities in pastel work are curious and interesting ; but independent as they are, it is not in them that we must seek the lessons of this section of his work, but rather in the moral elevation of the idea and in the human eloquence of its expression. Thus once more we are reduced to the conclusion that the chief interest of Millet’s work is literary, and not artistic.

In a dozen works — in the Sower, the Woman Carrying Two Buckets (in the Vanderbilt collection), the Sheepfold by Moonlight, the Lessiveuse, the Shepherdess Knitting as she Leads her Flock, the Man with a Hoe, the Diggers — Millet has expressed a poignant sympathy with man, and with man’s misery, resignation, and weariness. By the vastness of the impression and by the profound simplicity of the scenes, he has produced something grandiose and touching, behind which the artist appears august and serene, the high priest of this ideal pastoral, in which the personages seem to be accomplishing the rites of some mystic ceremony. Compared with Paul Potter and the universal Cuyp, Millet is a profound thinker. Compared with painters like Terburg and Metzu, he is a captivating dreamer. Compared with the painters of peasant life, like Jan Steen, Ostade, and Brouwer, he is incontestably noble. But it is always from the literary and moral point of view that we accord Millet his superiority. In form, in language, in that exterior envelope of style or art without which the works of the mind neither exist nor live, in picturesque faculties, or, in other words, in purely artistic qualities, Millet is far inferior to one and all of these great Dutch painters. Hitherto it would seem that the strongest leaven of thought has been able to preserve and perpetuate only such works as are in themselves plastically great. The final impression I carry away from the collective exhibition of Millet’s work is that in the zeal of combat his admirers have gone beyond the mark, and attributed to the artist qualities which he did not possess, and which he did not persistently aim at acquiring. Millet is not a great painter, worthy to be ranked with the great masters of the past; and even when we compare him with his contemporaries, Delacroix and Théodore Rousseau, he sinks to a modest level which it may be well not to attempt to qualify too precisely.

Towards the end of his life, in 1873, in a letter to a Belgian critic, Millet expressed the thought that, in matters of art, purely technical skill is of small consequence, and that the chief and allimportant point is to see and approach things “par leur côté fondamental.” These words are not a résumé of the painter’s whole life, but they express the dream which absorbed the second and the mature part of his existence, and they suffice to warn us against the vanity of seeking exquisite artistic qualities in the work of a man who was exclusively concerned with the moral essence and significance of human actions and phases of nature. Millet’s epopee of rural life is incomplete even from his own point of view, inasmuch as his mental attitude and moral temperament led him to disdain the portrayal of rural joys, even of the severe and domestic order; but with all its limitations, both technical and subjective, it is a work of undeniable intrinsic and human interest.

As has been admirably observed by James Russell Lowell, “ the final judgment of the world is intuitive, and is based not on proof that a work possesses some of the qualities of another whose greatness is acknowledged, but on the immediate feeling that it carries to a high point of perfection certain qualities proper to itself.”

Theodore Child.

  1. Millet’s friend, Alfred Sensier, devoted a whole volume to the narrative of these sufferings, which, by the way, he is considered to have exaggerated in order to bring into relief the rôle of benefactor played by himself in this life-drama of art and insufficient prosperity. According to the statements of the members of Millet’s family, his children never wanted bread; the table was always well served; and their existence, though simple, was happy and abundant. In other words, while Sensier’s narrative is correct as regards the facts of Millet’s life, the author has been guilty of exaggeration and voluntary misrepresentations in the sombre and melodramatic aspect which he has communicated to many phases of the artist’s career.