Lot 7
  • 7

Jean-François Millet

300,000 - 500,000 USD
266,500 USD
bidding is closed


  • Jean-François MIllet
  • Paysanne Conduisant Aux Champs Sa Vache et ses Moutons

  • signed J. F. Millet (lower right)
  • pastel and crayon noir on paper


M. Moureau, Paris (acquired from the artist through Alfred Sensier, 1863)
Alfred Sensier (purchased back from M. Moureau, and sold, his sale Paris, Hôtel Drouot, December 10, 1877, lot 196)
Achim Moeller, New York and London (1983)
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1985


Kofu, Yamanashi Prefectural Museum; Tokyo, Bunkamura Museum of Art; Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, Jean-François Millet – Four Seasons, Earth's Gentle Colors, 1991, no. 56,


Catalogue Note

Jean-François Millet drew Paysanne conduisant aux champs sa vache et ses moutons for a new patron, a M. Moureau, in May of 1863.  The self-assured young woman leading her young heifer and trio of sheep with quiet dignity across a landscape studded with Barbizon features marks an important shift in Millet's art, so the precise dating (documented by the artist's correspondence with his friend Alfred Sensier who acted as agent for the sale) is particularly valuable.  The commission for Paysanne conduisant...sa vache... speaks to significant changes in Millet's interpretation of his favored subjects, his drawing style, and, very importantly,  his public acceptance after nearly a decade of critical opprobriu

The solitary girls and young women who tended single cows along the roadsides and edges of the great wheat fields of Chailly had fascinated Millet since his arrival in nearby Barbizon.  He had been particularly troubled by the contrast between these cowherds, who were effectively tethered to lumbering animals from dawn to dusk to keep the beasts out of the fields and gardens of larger farmsteads, and the milkmaids of his Normandy youth who moved between home dairies and small, lush pastures only twice a day to tend herds that could be safely left unwatched in enclosed fields.  What Millet recognized as the dismal plight of young girls isolated from village life (and even minimal schooling) in order to protect an impoverished family's single asset was featured in his painting for the Salon of 1858, Femme faisant paître sa vache (Bourg-en-Bresse, Musée de l'Ain),  which provoked especially harsh recrimination from critics who resented Millet's documentation of rural hardship and greatly compounded the rejection of his art that had greeted The Gleaners (Paris, Musée d'Orsay) at the previous Salon.  That Millet now depicts his Paysanne conduisant...sa vache...   as moving rather regally (and leading, not following, her young cow) with an accompaniment of  several sheep suggests an improvement in her family's prospects, as well as Millet's own acknowledgement of a broader amelioration that had begun to appear in farming conditions around Barbizon. 

Contributing to the sense of pastoral well-being that pervades  Paysanne conduisant...sa vache... is the beautifully balanced coloring of the composition in which pastel tints are worked throughout the entire underlying black crayon drawing with stronger effect than had been Millet's custom in the generally darker crayon drawings which dominated his output through the 1850s.  Paysanne conduisant...sa vache...  provides an important landmark in Millet's journey to his more intensely colored pastel techniques  of 1865-66.

Together, the softening of the social message in Paysanne conduisant...sa vache... and the deliberate search for the grace and the color in the composition reflect Millet's conscious effort to build a new reputation and a new clientele for his work.  The Salon criticism of the late 1850s had made his paintings almost unsaleable and was devastating for his financial situation.  While some relief had come in 1861, when his paintings were better received, Millet  recognized that in the short run his future lay with his drawings and with the small coterie of collectors to whom he had turned repeatedly in the 1850s.  That the previously unknown "M. Moureau," described by Sensier as a merchant of curiosities should have turned up in 1863 was a godsend for the artist, and over the next several years, Millet created more than a half-dozen colored drawings for the new patron, who seems to have been half a serious collector, half a dealer or speculator.