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Shepherd Tending His Flock

Jean-François Millet

European Art

The son of farmers, Millet understood both the reassuring cycle of the seasons and the frightening prospect of ruin at nature’s whim. From the late 1840s, he dedicated his career to a simultaneously heroic and bleak depiction of the peasants of Barbizon, the farming community outside Paris where he lived. Millet’s uncompromising representation of the French peasantry earned him the scorn of conservative critics. In this painting, Millet endows the shepherd with an imposing monumentality, bringing him to the foreground of the image, where he looms above the horizon line. Yet the figure hunches over his staff, his nearly featureless face gape-mouthed, perhaps with exhaustion or pain. And while Millet’s shepherd tends a large flock, the parched yellow and brown grass in the foreground has been interpreted as a suggestion of future scarcity. Other scholars have offered religious readings of the image, likening the shepherd to Christ.
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
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    CREDIT LINE Bequest of William H. Herriman
    RIGHTS STATEMENT No known copyright restrictions
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    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
    IMAGE overall, 21.31_SL1.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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