Tuesday, September 15, 2015

ART BIZ | Barbizon and Jean-François Millet

One of many eating places in Barbizon. Alice is holding up
 the front of the old building. All photos by JT Marlin
except the artwork by Millet.
Alice and I drove through Barbizon on Monday and were impressed at this small village of 1,300 residents that punches way above its weight.

We went back the next day to spend a few hours among the ateliers (studios) and other attractions. It's a true artist's colony, with a rue Grande that alternates places to eat or have coffee with ateliers, galleries and boutiques of all kinds.

But the Auberge Granne at 92 rue Grande (the main drag containing most of the ateliers), now a museum, is closed on Tuesdays. So we went back there a third time to see it on Wednesday with two friends visiting from Paris, Stuyvie and Mitten Wainwright.
Jean-François Millet, Self-Portrait
in the Louvre.

A resident of nearby Cély explained to me the appeal of Barbizon:
Beaucoup des gens viennent de Paris faire une excursion provinciale, voir les peintres et la musée en Barbizon, particulièrement pendant les weekends.
Barbizon is famed for its school of art, which flourished in 1830-1875 and included among its three main leaders Jean-François Millet, who died in the same Barbizon house he was born in.

Jean-François Millet, Les Glaneuses (The Gleaners) (1857) 
He is buried in the village next to Théodore Rousseau, another native of Barbizon and fellow leader of the school of art. Rousseau's house and atelier at rue Grande 55 was a second center of Barbizon, like Auberge Granne.

The Barbizon School was about bringing art down from the formal clichés of classical mythology or Biblical history, royal portraits, aristocratic picnics and battles.

The Barbizonais sought to observe the life of ordinary farmers and working people. It was influenced by John Constable, an English pastoral painter who exhibited some paintings in 1824 at the Salon de Paris.
Les Glaneuses copied in mosaic, a
tribute to Millet on a wall in Barbizon.

But the young French painters went beyond Constable. Yes, like him they abandoned formalistic portrayals of events that made nature merely a backdrop. Yes, they tried to draw inspiration directly from nature. But the Revolutions of 1848 added a new dimension to the Barbizon painters, attention to the farmers and shepherds and seamstresses and other craftspeople as workers. Artists gathered at Barbizon to go on forays into the Fontainebleau forest or to nearby farms and villages to make the realities of rural life - harsh or tender - the centerpiece of their paintings.

For example, Millet's famed painting The Gleaners (1857) realistically portrays the difficulty that gleaners have in finding enough left over in the fields to assemble enough food to eat.

Millet was a great influence on van Gogh, especially in his early years, and on Claude Monet.

Millet, whose parents were themselves from a peasant family in Normandy, depended for his livelihood on a few art collectors who provided him with income in return for a flow of paintings, much as Vincent van Gogh relied on his brother Theo.

During his lifetime, Millet's paintings achieved modest success and he was able to raise a family. But after his death the value of his art soared. The rapidity of the jump in values - in which Millet's heirs did not share - contributed to the establishment of the principle in France of droit de suite. This law requires that an artist or the artist's estate share in the rapid appreciation of the value of the artist's works after the initial sale.

This principle contrasts with U.S. law whereby each sale of art transfers all subsequent appreciation in value to the newest buyer.

Millet, Church at Chailly.
Mark Twain wrote a humorous play, Is He Dead?, about a painter named Millet who fakes his own death in order to try to capture the premium that accrues to art after an artist's death. The play is, of course, fictional.

The church at Chailly. L to R: Mitten, Stuyvie
and Alice.
Besides Millet and Rousseau, the other main leader of the Barbizon School was Charles-François Daubigny.

Millet, "The Angelus". In the
background, ringing the bells of the
Angelus, is the church in Chailly.
Other prominent members of the school included Jules Dupré, Constant Troyon, Charles Jacque, Narcisse Díaz de la Peña, Pierre Emmanuel Damoye, Charles Olivier de Penne, Henri Harpignies, Paul-Emmanuel Péraire, Gabriel-Hippolyte Lebas, Albert Charpin, Félix Ziem, François-Louis Français, Émile van Marcke, and Alexandre Defaux.

Evidence of their lives and legacies is preserved in the form of plaques and copies of their art.

After Barbizon we went to the church at nearby Chailly, which was the model for Millet's famed landscape of a church, and was in the background of the painting L'Angelus.

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