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Shepherd Tending His Flock

Jean-François Millet

European Art

Jean-François Millet dedicated his career to heroic and bleak depictions of the peasants of Barbizon, where he lived. Here, he endows a shepherd with an imposing monumentality, head haloed against the sky as he stands among his flock like a Christ figure. Such images were widely perceived in France and the United States as reflecting the inherent spirituality of peasants.

For some, Millet’s work did not represent an idealized rural past, but an unadorned vision of contemporary rural poverty. A few years after the Civil War, one American writer saw in his imagery “the patient, hopeless weariness of the overtasked workman. . . . We saw the unpaid slave of our country, the pauper workman of France and England.”

Conservative critics scorned his work, viewing his subjects as ugly, animal-like figures prone to revolution. Referring to similar paintings by Millet and other Barbizon artists, one government art official in the 1860s said, “This is the painting of democrats, of men who don’t change their underwear.”
MEDIUM Oil on canvas
  • Place Made: Europe
  • DATES early 1860s
    DIMENSIONS 32 3/16 x 39 9/16 in. (81.8 x 100.5 cm) frame: 41 5/8 x 49 3/16 x 3 1/2 in. (105.7 x 124.9 x 8.9 cm)  (show scale)
    SIGNATURE Signed lower right: "J. F. Millet"
    COLLECTIONS European Art
    CREDIT LINE Bequest of William H. Herriman
    PROVENANCE Prior to 1918, provenance not yet documented; by July 26, 1918, acquired by William Henry Herriman of Brooklyn, NY and Rome, Italy; May 18, 1921, bequeathed by William Henry Herriman to the Brooklyn Museum.
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    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    CAPTION Jean-François Millet (French, 1814–1875). Shepherd Tending His Flock, early 1860s. Oil on canvas, 32 3/16 x 39 9/16 in. (81.8 x 100.5 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Bequest of William H. Herriman, 21.31 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 21.31_PS11.jpg)
    IMAGE overall, 21.31_PS11.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2021
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    RIGHTS STATEMENT No known copyright restrictions
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