Millet's 'Angelus' and 'The Gleaners' attracting crowds in Taipei

"Bad Potato Harvest" was what Jean-Francois Millet of the Barbizon School originally wanted to call "Angelus," shown above.

Jean-Francois Millet's "The Gleaners" is one of the artist's 16 masterpieces currently on view at the National Museum of History. The peasants wear ha

"Shepherdess with Her Flock," depicting serenity and harmony, was Jean-Francois Millet's first success at the Paris Salon of 1864.

Jean-Francois Millet's "Angelus" and "The Gleaners," on loan from the Musee d' Orsay in Paris, are two compelling reasons to find time to visit the National Museum of History in Taipei nowadays.
There is no doubt that Millet, an artist of peasant stock, has been capturing the public's imagination through his portrayal of farmers in out-of-door 19th century scenes. His art reflects the new social attitude then of respect for manual work. Peasants are imbued with simple dignity in his studies of realism.
Millet's masterpieces "Angelus" and "The Gleaners" stand out as examples of art from the Barbizon School, paving the way for the introduction of a new and vast palette, new textures and new subject matter in art history.
To look at "Angelus" is to almost hear the church bells ringing in the distance. Such call for prayers brings work among the tillers of the soil to a temporary halt. The believers in the Divine Providence pray for blessings from above. Originally Millet wanted to call the painting "Bad Potato Harvest" because the crop was hit at that time by disease.
"Millet and His Time: Masterpieces from the Musee d'Orsay" highlights Millet and other artists like Camille Corot, Theodore Rousseau, and Jules Dupre in direct confrontation with chosen subjects, resulting in honest depiction of the visual sensations. There are a total of 65 masterpieces of which 16 are by Millet. Works by Jules Breton and other painters influenced by Millet are also featured.
"The anxiety over the accelerating rural exodus and the growth of the cities pushed these artists to idealize the countryside," according to Chantal Georgel, chief curator of the Musee d'Orsay.
As this particular period in focus saw the invention with commercial success of photography by Niepce and Daguerre, the exhibit brings also to Taipei 20 original photographs of 19th century vintage, thereby giving an idea of the rural scenery serving as subject matter of the Barbizon artists.
Millet was born to a modest but cultivated peasant family in Greville in Normandy. As a young man, he went to Cherbourg to study drawing and painting. But his early career in painting was confined to portraits of relatives and the local bourgeoisie. He also produced what were said to be quality nudes. "Two Bathers" and "Reclining Female Nude" can be seen at the National Museum of History. Millet succeeded in selling his creative output during his lifetime.
In 1837, Millet decided to go to Paris and in 1849, he moved to Barbizon at the edge of the Fontainebleau forest. There he observed closely the peasants, painting them, such as the winnower, the shepherd, and the milkmaid, all in the ongoing exhibition in Taipei.
Impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh was a great admirer of Jean-Francois Millet. In fact, Van Gogh tried to copy Millet's works when he was just starting out as an artist.Van Gogh, in fact, made many art studies after Millet's “The Sower."
According to Huang Yung-chuan, director of the National Museum of History, the exhibition of Millet's works in Taipei has been possible only because the Musee d'Orsay, especially where Millet's works are usually put on view in Paris, is undergoing renovation and, therefore, is closed to the public. The United Daily News Group is the major sponsor of the Taipei exhibit.
"Millet and His Time: Masterpieces from the Musee d'Orsay" will be on display at the National Museum of History on Nanhai Road in Taipei until September 5 this year. Regular entrance ticket costs NT$250.