On February 16, the Saint Louis Art Museum will open “Millet and Modern Art: From Van Gogh to Dalí,” an exhibition that examines, for the first time, the international legacy of the 19th-century French painter, Jean-François Millet.
From the museum:
Millet (1814–1875) was a pioneer in developing innovative imagery of rural peasantry, landscapes, and nudes, and his work had a deep impact on later generations of artists. In the late 19th century, he was arguably the best-known modern painter, and his works sold for the highest prices of any modern pictures at auction. Today, he is less well known, and “Millet and Modern Art” explores Millet’s original importance and the international range of artists he influenced.
The exhibition is organized by the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. It runs through May 17.
“This groundbreaking exhibition rediscovers Millet’s critical role in the birth and development of modern art,” said Brent R. Benjamin, the Barbara B. Taylor Director of the Saint Louis Art Museum. “It will be a visually stunning treat for our visitors, and it is an important contribution to art historical scholarship.”
Masterworks on loan from many of the world’s greatest museums situate Millet’s imagery within the context of work by a wide, international range of artists whom he influenced. Among the latter are the Dutchman Vincent van Gogh; the Frenchmen Camille Pissarro, Georges Seurat, and Claude Monet; the Italian Giovanni Segantini; the American Winslow Homer; the German Paula Modersohn-Becker; the Norwegian Edvard Munch, and the Spaniard Salvador Dalí.
Rural labor was always an important theme for Millet, and the exhibition looks at imagery such as the sower, the reaper, and the gleaner, in which the artist articulated his sympathy for the marginalized rural poor and suggested larger metaphorical narratives of birth and death. Millet’s work had a particularly deep impact on Van Gogh, who referred to him as “father Millet.”
The exhibition includes several iconic images by Van Gogh, including two important paintings of “The Sower” and the Musée d’Orsay’s rarely lent “Starry Night,” which predates van Gogh’s painting of the same title in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Among the American artists represented in the show is Homer, whose “The Bright Side” reinterprets Millet’s imagery through the lens of race.
In the late 19th century, Millet’s drawings and pastels were often seen as more formally radical than his paintings.
The show includes important groupings of works on paper, demonstrating their impact on artists such as Georges Seurat. There is also a body of Millet’s little-known nude imagery that deeply affected Edgar Degas.
The exhibition emphasizes the significance of Millet’s landscape paintings, which increasingly dominated his practice in the last decade of his life. His marine imagery is paired with that of his fellow Norman, Monet, who was also fascinated by the sea. An important loan in this section is “Spring,” a late masterpiece in which Millet showcases his ability to capture light from a passing rainbow. This is related to imagery by the American George Inness.
The final and culminating section of the exhibition centers on Millet’s “Angelus,” one of the most expensive modern paintings of the late 19th century and an important national symbol of France to this day. The show includes related work by artists including Munch, the Russian Natalia Goncharova, and an important group of pictures by Dalí, who was obsessed by Millet’s “Angelus.”
The exhibition is co-curated by Simon Kelly, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Saint Louis Art Museum, and Maite van Dijk, senior curator at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.
“Millet and Modern Art” is organized by the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, with exceptional support from the Musée d’Orsay, Paris. The exhibition is presented in St. Louis by the Betsy and Thomas Patterson Foundation.
For more information, please visit slam.org.