Paulist Fathers.

The Century, Volume 21 online

. (page 28 of 78)
Online LibraryPaulist FathersThe Century, Volume 21 → online text (page 28 of 78)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


rounded by hedges. As there are many water-
courses, there are many mills. The women watch
the cows, spinning on a spindle, — a thing I was not
familiar with, and which I propose to use a great
deaL It is not in the least the shepherdess with
her distaff of the pastorals of the last century. It
has nothing to do with Florian, I assure you.

• * • The little carts of the peasants are drawn
by cows. The wagons which they use for bringing
home the hay have four wheels, and are drawn by
oxen or cows. ♦ • • J.-F. Millet."

The 26th of June, he tells Sensier that he
has made fifty sketches and water-colors.
He adds :

** The country, on the whole, is a little like many
parts of Normandy. The country people are mncn



Digitized by V^OOQlC



398 JEAN^FRANQOIS MILLET— PEASANT AND PAINTER.



more peasants than at Barbizon; they have that
good, stupid kind of awkwardness which does not
remind one in the least of the neighborhood of fash-
ionable baths. The women in general have phizes
which express the very opposite of spitefulness or
onkindness, and which would answer as the type of
feces in Gothic art This race cannot be unidnd.
They speak to you when they meet you. The other
da^ I began a sketch near a house ; I had not been
at It long before a man came out with a chair. He
did not wish me to stand, so near his home.**

From Vichy he made a rapid excursion into
Auvergne, where M. Chassaing awaited him.
He saw Clermont, Issoire and the mountains.
The voyage only lasted some days. The
19th of July he was again in Barbizon, writ-
ing to the fnend who had showed him the
Mont Dore and its splendors :

***** My head is full of all we saw together
in Auvergne. Everything dances together in my
brain ; audned ground, sharp rocks, splits, barren-
ness, and greeneries. The glory of God dwelling
upon the heights, and other heights veiled in dark-
ness. I hope all these things will finally arrange
themselves and go each into its own pigeon-hole."

He became more and more a landscapist.
He sought simplicity in grandeur, and foimd
the emotion which is to be found in solitude,
and the mysterious poetry of luminous or
tragic skies. His leUers accord with his
works :

**One must admit that the things one sees out-
of-doors in this dull weather are very touching,
and are a great compensation for the Httle time one
has to work. I would not be deprived of it for any-
thing, and if it were proposed to me to take me
to the South for the winter, I should totally refuse.
Oh, sadness of field and wood ! I should miss too
much in not seeing you ! "

The Universal Exhibition was in prepara-
tion, and the artists could send any works
produced since the year 185 c. Millet's
friends had some trouble in bringing to-
gether his scattered pictures; he himself
could never have surmounted the difficulties.
The annual Salon opened at the same time,
and Millet sent a landscape, " Winter," and
another picture, " The Goose-girl."

** Barbizon, 26th March, 1867.
**Mv Dear Sknsier: What you say in your
last letter about my pictures at the Universal Expo-
sition, the opinion of^ Meissonier and others, all gives
me great pleasure. As to the cross, I assure vou I
do not flatter myself, and do not imagine that I will
get it. Besides, there are plenty of people more
anxious than I, who roll logs more persistently than
I am willing to do. I only desire this : To live by
my work and brine up my children decentlv, and
give expression to uie greatest possible numoer of
my impressions. Also, at the same time, to have
the S3rmpathy of the people I love. If all this were
secured to me I should think myself fortunate."



« April 1st, 1867.
*' My Dear Sensier : To-day is the opening of the
Exhibition, if the programme remains aLn<dian«L
I am not without anxiety, I assure you, in th i niing

of it It is a serious question for me and for others.

• • • ti

Millet was wrong to be alarmed. His
exhibition made a grand appearance — typi-
cal work of varied and strong character. It
was " Death and the Wood-cutter " (refused in
1859), "The Gleaners," "The Shepherdess
with her Flock," the large " Sheep-sheaier,"
" The Shepherd," " The Sheep-fold," " The
Potato-planters," "The Potato-harvest," and,
finally, "The Angelus." He had chosen
well, but he felt anxious, as a man woukl
who had not always been well received.

Th^ophile Silvestre, after some hesitaticm,
declared himself for Millet, and in his new
zeal almost thought he had invented him, but
he scarcely knew the painter or the man.
He asked Sensier for notes.



< Barbizon, 23d April, 1867.
ER : • • ♦ I entirely rdr
have said to M. Silvestre, aaa



" Mv Dear Sensier :
upon what you may have said to M. Silvestre, \
smce I must give my opinion, you hmve dooe
well to dwell upon the rustic side, for, to tefl the
truUi, if that side is not marked in what I \ac9t
done, I have done nothings. I reject with mj
whole soul the democratic side, as it is understood
by the clubs, and which some have desired to attrib-
ute to me. I only have wished peofde to tiunk of
the man who gains his bread by the sweat of his
brow. Let that be said, for I have never dreamed
of being a pleader in anj cause. I am a peasant — a
peasant As to explaimng my way of psunting, thai
would be rather duKcult, for I have not taken xnndi
heed of it"

•* 30th April

" Dear Sensier : You may believe thai I am
well pleased to get a first medaL Roussean wrote
to me about it * * * With some exce p tioos.
Silvestre's description of my pictures is pr e tty good,
but too much inclined to his peculiar >'tews. I
attempted, timidly and discreetly, to hint some things
in the sense in which I should better like to see
them understood, but when it is so directly a ques-
tion of one's self, one seems to be making a rass. His
peasant is a Uttle the peasant which Proudhon saw.
A detail of no importance to the public, and whkli
has none, perhaps, except in my personal tastes,
is that in ' The I'otato-punters ' he saw a piece cA
old sheep-skin in the saoots. If I wanted anything
there it would have been straw. In my part of the
country, a man who would put sheep-skin in his
sabots or on them would have been an object ^
derision. • * • i passed over this little detail,
as I did not dare make any more corrections. It i>
true he only read me his notes."

" Winter " at the Salon was considerably
praised. Theodore Pelloquet wrote of it :

***** What a melancholy impression, fnU
of poetry and of reality, this painting makes upon
the attentive and sympathetic spectator ! It is doI
at 6rst attractive, and we must look more than
once to understand and admire it Those who arc



Digitized by V^OOQlC



JEAN^FRANgOIS MILLET— PEASANT AND PAINTER. 399



dunned by the brilliant puerilities of clever and
rapid handling are more or less indifferent to the
ezecntiQn so simple, so naive, yet so intelligent, of
this master, and nis profound sentiment for nature,
and are more or less insensible to the quality of his
powerfbl and true color."

When this article appeared, Millet had
gone to Vichy again with his wife.

** Vichy, 26th June.

"My Deak Rousseau: Here we are again,
roaldi^ the acquaintance of the gay world of Vichy.
I put off from day to day telling you, fearing you
mi^t be humiliated — ^you who are only in Pans.

*• The day after we parted, I went to see your
exhibition. I must tell you now that, although I
knew your Anvergne studies and those preceding
them, I was again struck, in seeing them together,
by the £u:t that a power is a power, from its very
beginning. From the very first, you show a fresh-
ness of e3re whidi leaves no doubt as to the pleasure
you have in nature ; one can see that she spoke very
direcdy to you, and that you saw by your own eyes.
It is yours, and not some other's^ as Montaigne sa^s.
I am not goinff to follow your steps, picture by pict-
ure, down to uie present I only want to spealc of
the departure, which is the important point, for it
shows that a man is of the true breed You were,
firom the beginning, the little oak, which was destined
to become the great oak. • * *



••Yours,



J.-F. Millet."



While absent at Vichjr, Millet could not
realize the gravity — still, in fact, uncertain —
of the disease with which his friend was
stricken [softening of the brainl ; but when
he returned to Barbizon, in the beginning of
July, he could himself observe the alarming
spnptoms. The doctors understood, but were
silent Indeed, it was difficult to believe that
Rousseau, apparently so robust, would so
suddenly dedme and die.

«* 12 Aug., 1865.

"Dear Senszer: Rousseau continues better,
tiKW^ jTCsterday he was not very well. To-day he
is better. The doctor seemed encouraged. I hope
for his recovery, though perhaps it may be very
slow.

" Alfred Stevens came this morning, with Puvis de
Chavannes, to teU Rousseau that he is elected an
officer [of the Legion of Honor]. We received
them — my wife and I— on the stairs, begeing them
not to go up, lest his quiet should be disturbed.
I told lum, and he seemra very much pleased*"

*• Barbizon, 22 Dec, 1867.
" My Dear Sensier : I am trembling and over-
whebned. Our poor Rousseau died this morning,
at nine o'clock. His death-strugele was very
painfuL He often tried to speak, but his wordls
were stifled by the rattle in his throat. Let those
know whom you think should be told. Tillot tele-
graphed to besan9on. I write to Silvestre at the
rtime."



After Rousseau's death, Millet took charge
of the tomb to be erected to him of rodcs
and trees taken from the forest of Fontaine-
bleau. He also helped Sensier to go through



his papers and art treasiures, and, lastly, took
care of the unhappy wife whom Rousseau
had left behind with an incurable malady.
Millet's headaches were very severe, and
his health seemed broken. But he had a
new client, M. Fred. Hartmann, for whom
he began several paintings. Unfortimately,
he seems often to have been interrupted m
his work, and died without having finished
the promised pictures.

He had to go again to Vichy, and seems
to have gained very little ftx>m this visit
He was too unwell to work ; he only made
a few excursions and drawings.

He sent nothing to the Salon ; but the
Administration remembered the absent, and
at the distribution of rewards on August 13th,
Millet was made Chevalier of the Legion
of Honor. The Government, never famous
for promptness, had taken seventeen years
to find out that Millet was a master. The
men of the time had but a lukewarm taste
for the works of the rustic painter. At last
they had to yield, and, after long hesitation,
decided to give him a ribbon. Those who were
present in the grand salon of the Louvre
at the distribution of medals, will remem-
ber that Marshal Vaillant, Minister of Fine
Arts, who presided at the ceremony, ob-
tained so unexpected a success that he
became speechless. He was far from ex-
pecting the outburst which he was to pro-
duce. The name of Millet had hardly been
spoken when the applause broke out, so vig-
orous, so energetic, so sincere, that the ven-
erable council and its president were troubled.
The Administration had chosen well, without
wishing it and without knowing it. And at
the confusion of these distributors of re-
wards, who for once, and almost against their
will, represented justice and public sentiment,
the applause redoubled. Millet's success
was tremendous.

Whether or not Millet felt pride from this
fetCy or rather this revenge, we do not know —
there are no letters. But everything leads us
to believe that he accepted his triumph with
the calm modesty of a philosopher, and
worked on in silence. In September, he and
Sensier made a charming journey. They
went to see M. Hartmann, at Munster, and
saw a comer of Alsace. From Munster they
went into Switzerland, for six or seven days.
They first went to Bile. " We saw the mu-
seum and the cathedral," Millet says, on the
back of a letter to his wife. So the painter
of "The Sheep-shearer" saw the moving
masterpieces of Hans Holbein. He did not
tell his impressions. The travelers were



Digitized by V^OOQlC



Digitized by



Googit



Digitized by



Googit



402 JEAN^FRANgOIS MILLET— PEASANT AND FAINTER.



to the priory of Vauville, they returned to
Cherbourg. To Sensier it seemed as if he
had been walking in Millet's pictures. On
the 7th November, 187 1, Millet returned to
Barbizon. He brought back several pict-
ures, finished or half done. We have not
the list of them; but Sensier mentions a
woman carrying milk in a copper vessel
which she holds on her shoulder, of which
we give the sketch.* FSee Scribner for
September, 1880, p. 748.]

We have now come to Millet's last years.
He will never leave Barbizon again. His cir-
cumstances are improved ; he has not to wait
for orders, and when his pictures appear at
sales they bring higher and higher prices.
Criticism is disarmed, if not convinced.
Millet seems to have reached the goal ; but,
unhappily, his health is more and more affect-
ed. His stem will is no longer an absolute
monarch, and often work becomes difhcult.

** Barbizon, 8th Jan., 1872.
** Dear Sensier : We are very much distressed
that yoQ should only have illness to console vou for
sorrow. If, as some Christians believe, God chas-
tens those whom He loves, and gives them a high
place above there, you must have a very glorious
seat in Paradise.

** M. Durand-Ruel asks for pictures of all sizes.

• • •

** An American gentleman and lady, M. and Mme.
Shaw, of Boston, came to ask me for a picture. I
must ^int them one. Thev chose among my draw-
ings *The Priory of Vauville.*

'* Detrimont and his wife came to get the little
shepherd. He wants another picture."

«* 25 April, *72.

"To M. Alfred Bruyas— Sir: Believe me
honored and flattered by the reouest of your letter
of the 8th April. I only regret mat I cannot imme-
diately comply with your request, as I have had so
many demands since my return. But you may
depend ui>on me to remember the object of your
wish, and to give it my attention as soon as I possi-
bly can. • ^ '

" What you say of the works of Barve does not
surprise me ; it is just what I think of nim. He is
one of the artists best fitted for the accomplishment
of great things. • • • "

" Barbizon, 6th Aug., '72
'*Dear Sensier: I have not yet finished my
•Church of Gr^ville.* I have done little. I have
groaned more than I have worked, for I have made
Uttle more than a sketch. You know the subject
A cow-herd blowing a horn to call his cows together :
end of day (sunset efiect). I am working on my
woman sewing by lamp-light.

" Barye is here. I have not yet seen him. I will
go to see him, as he is not out yet, 'though he is
better."

In 1872 and 1873 Millet finished the pict-
ures begun at Cherbourg, and worked on

• A milk-carrier of very different design was
engraved by H^ouin.



Others. Besides the landscapes for M.
Hartmann and the young mother with her
baby in her arms (life size), he painted the
" Pnory of Vauville," and several other pict-
ures. Unforttmately, a nervous distress and
the frequent recurrence of painful headaches
lessened greatly his hours of work. Sevcial
remained unfinished, and those he completed
he kept by him, thinking to take i^nKsn tip
again and work on them, for, as he often
said, he believed with Rousseau that a pict- i
iu« was never finished. The "Egiise de
Gr^ville," now in the Luxembourg, was in
his studio at his death.*

* 31st Dec, '7*.

I



" My eyes are very painful,
very httle, which distresses me. My • Priory ' b it
the same state as when you saw it I will have tbe
measures taken for the cross on Rousseau's tomb.

" Here goes the year 1872 where all the years
have gone r We all embrace you, you and Marcne-
rite, and wish you all we can wish to those we love
the best"

In 1873, M. Camille Lemonnier, a critic
at Brussels, sent to Millet a pamphlet
called: "The Paris Aiii?«, 1870." MiDet,
in a reply thanking him for it, took the op-
portumty to express briefly the thought
which it seemed to him shoidd be dominant
in all art creations.

"Barbizon, 15th Feb., '73.

«* Dear Sir : I am very much flattered by your
letter, and thank you for making me acquainted with
your work as art critic. The most enviable reward
of those who try to do their best is to exsaXjt Ibe
sympathv of intelligent men. This is equivalent to
saying that I am happy to have been the orrasion
of your expressing certain truths of art Only, yw
say of me things which I consider to be so deniable
that I dare not oelieve myself possessed of them. It
is not that I would doubt your judgment, but I <is-
trust myself.

** But let me put m^elf aside quickly, diat I mar
say (without stumblmg over my own toes) diat 1
must give you great praise for considering things
from Uieir funcuimenUd side. It is the oS|y true,
solid side. Many people, far from taking this point
of view, seem to think that art is only a sort of show
of professional ability. You understand that the
artist must have a high and definite aim. ^'ith-
out it, how can he n^e efforts to reach a point
of which he does not even suspect the existence ?
How can a dog pursue game which he canaoC
scent ? It depends, therefore, U{>on his aim, and
the way in which he has reached it, that an artist is
of interest

f « I assure jrou, sir, that if it only were a auestioo
of mv own will I would express strongly tne type
whicn is, in my opinion, the greatest truth. Yon
are quite right to think that such is my intentioa



*The state bought "The Bathers." At the
Luxembourg may also be seen four of his drawings,
"Shepherdess Knitting," "Shepherdess Scatei**
" Sewing- women," and "A Churcn near Cosset"



Digitized by



Google



JEAN^FRANgOIS MILLET— PEASANT AND PAINTER. 403



Bot I find m3rself started on a very difficult road, and
I do not want to to any further [in writing!. If
yon ever come to Paris and get as far as Baroizon,
vre could talk about it. • • • J.-F. Millet.**

We see him always looking for the type,
the accentuation of the physiognomy; at
diat time, at least, these were his principal
preoccupations. In truth, he had always
thought of it, and in his search it had hap-
pened to him as to the early masters and
sincere painters of the sixteenth century ; in
pursuing character he had on the road met
u^iness. I mean that, hostile on principle
to commonplace idealizations, he was not
afraid to put into his rustic compositions
figures of rough aspect and coarse individ-
uality, with expressions which seemed to
admit that the human is not always vastly
superior to the animal It is this tendency,
scarcely veiled, which so often excited the
heat of Th^phile Gautier and Paul de Saint-
Victor, and which even Thor^ mentioned in
the " Peasants Bringing Home a Calf."
In the " Man with the Hoe," the head of the
terrible worker of the groimd has something
disturbing in it The litde Barbizon beg-
gar is not much beautified,*and the " Vine-
oresser," resting, is not altogether charming.
" What more terrible than the * Vine-dresser '
at rest," writes M. Burty, " seated, sweating,
the arms hanging and legs apart ! His hands,
which have grown knotted like the stock of
the vine, his feet dusty, his mouth open, his
brow incapable of a thought beyond the vine
which has taxed his strength." Millet was
convinced that expression redeems every-
thing.

At a sale on the 7th of April, 1873, Millet
had the pleasure of seeing his " Woman
with a Lamp" sell for 38,000 francs. His
"Washerwoman" reached the price of
*S»35o» ^J^d later, "Geese," 25,000, and
tile " Woman Churning," engraved by M.
Martial, 14,000. If Millet had been vain,
these sums might have consoled him for his
past misfortunes.*

" Barbizon, 22 Sept, 1873.
"Deae Sensier : Since I saw vou I have safiered
erettly. My cough kills me. Only these last few
otys am I a little Setter. I am breaking down com-
pwtdy, I assure yon."

Unfortunately, the breaking down of
which he speaks is a real thmg. In the
sprmg and summer he had been more or
fess in. One June night, after an accident
which his letters do not explain, he was
««2cd with a dreadful hemorrhage which

•[During Millet's life-time "The Angelus " was re-
sold for 5o/xx> francs.— Ed. S. M.]



greatly weakened him. An unfortimate
cough deprived him for weeks of all vigor
or energy. He worked, nevertheless, and
finished several pictiures. At the sale of
his studio effects, some of the unfinished
pictures of this time were seen ; especially
two unfinished shepherdesses were to be
regretted. In one, the tower of the mill of
Chailly showed on the horizon; in the
other, I think more advanced, the shepherd-
ess was bringing back her flock. The sun
is already set ; the girl walks, followed by
her sheep, which a dog, mounted on a hil-
lock, watches as they hurry past. The land-
scape is wrapped in vapor. Millet always
understood the melancholy of evening and
the silent hour when the first stars come out
Millet's correspondence stops abruptly in
the spring of 1874. Writing, formerly so easy
to the brave artist, has become a fatigue.

« Barbizon, 18 March, '74.
** How lone it is since I haye written to you, my
dear Sensier f I am in such a weak state of healtn
that I put off from day to day what I have to do.
Believe me, I think of you all tne same. If my body
is weakened, my heart is not colder. • • • "

The Republic wished to repair the long
forgetfulness of the past. The administra-
tion of the Beaux Arts, then headed by a
writer to whom the honor of French art was
always precious, conceived the idea of dec-
orating the cold walls of the Pantheon, or of
Sainte Genevieve, — ^for it seems the Pantheon
is a church without looking like it. M. de
Chennevi^res, to his honor be it said, did
not forget Millet. The 12th of May, 1874,
the minister signed an order ^allowing him
50,000 fi-ancs for the execution of dec-
orative painting in the chapel of Sainte
Genevieve. Millet was to paint the " Mir-
acle des Ardents " and the procession of the
shrine of Sainte Genevieve — in all eight sub-
jects, four big and four little. He immedi-
ately began to make out in charcoal the plan
of his compositions. He was both appalled
and delighted at such a beautiful task, but
Death did not permit him to carry it out.

Sensier and M. Hartmann went to see
Millet on the 9th of July, 1874. He was fin-
ishing the " Priory" for Mr. Shaw, and « The
Spring" for M. Hartmann was finished.
He was working on two others, " Hay-
cocks " and " Buckwheat-Threshers."

"We saw in the studio," writes Sensier,
" another subject almost done, and promis-
ing to be very fine — a reminiscence of Mil-
lers home. A sea-view, filmed by the
posts of a gate- way, opening on land going



Digitized by V^OOQlC



Digitized by



Googit



JEAN-FRANgOIS MILLET— PEASANT AND PAINTER. 405



his works were to be found in famous col-
lections at a time when the French amateurs
were still indififerent, — Belgium also brought
her praises to the painter of Barbizon. And
«vcn America sent her testimony of esteem
and regret The article by Mr. Edward
Wheelwright, in the "Atlantic Monthly"
of September, 1876, is one of the most com-
plete and personal studies of Millet that
have been published.

Such an enumeration must perforce be
incomplete. But we cannot pass over some
phrases, sympathetic in spite of their reserve,
which Fromentin has wntten about Millet :

"An original painter of oar own time, a lofty
seal, a nMdancholy spirit, a good heart, a nature
tmly rustic, has said of the country and country
peoplCy of the severity, the melancholy, and the
ooouity of their work, things which no Dutchman
would have ever dreamed of looking for. He said
them in a language a little rude, and imder forms
where the thought has more clearness and vicpor
than the hand. We were deeply thankful for his
tendencies; and in the French school of painting
we saw in him the sensibilities of a Burns, less
derer than the poet in malcine himself understood.
After all, has he or has he not feft beautiful pictures ?
Has his form, his language — I mean that exterior en-
velope without which the thines of the mind cannot
exist or last — has it the qusuities to make him a
beaotiful painter, and to assure bis future fame ? He
is aprofoond thinker compared with Paul Potter and
de Cuyp ; he is a sympathetic dreamer compared with



Online LibraryPaulist FathersThe Century, Volume 21 → online text (page 28 of 78)