- Jean-François MIllet
- Sheep Grazing along a Hedgerow
- signed J.F.M. (lower right)
- oil on panel
Alfred Sensier, Paris and Barbizon (acquired from the above, and sold, his sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, December 10-18, 1877, lot 48)
Hector Brame (acquired at the above sale)
Georges Lutz, Paris (by 1887)
Edward Holbrook, New York (and sold, American Art Association, New York, April 13-14, 1899, lot 79, as Sheep at Pasture)
P. A. B. Widener, Esq, Ashbourne, Pennsylvania
John Levy Galleries, New York
Mr. and Mrs. Richard Nuttall, Pittsburgh (and sold, their sale, Sotheby’s Parke-Bernet, New York, May 21, 1952, lot 17, illustrated)
Private Collection (acquired at the above sale)
Thence by descent
The small flock of sheep being moved down a country lane in Sheep Grazing along a Hedgerow are watched over by a blue tunicked farmer just barely discernible through the foliage on the right. That the scene is near Gruchy, Millet’s native Normandy, rather than Barbizon—where he also followed and recorded the itinerant shepherds with their larger flocks moving across the open plain—is established by the lush green foliage that covers the high-banked hedgerows separating fields. Sheep, in their contrasting habits of massing and straggling as they wandered, were endlessly fascinating to Millet and the detail of a single animal stretching its neck well above the flock to reach the freshest young leaves had become a classic Millet motif that appears in many of his paintings and drawings. Distinctive in Sheep Grazing along a Hedgerow is Millet’s interest in the strong juxtaposition of sunlight and shadow, so emblematic of any passage through a deep-set Normandy lane, and which here threatens to dissolve the center of the flock into an amorphous mass of bright white wool. Not yet an Impressionist, Millet was nonetheless attentive to the fluctuations of light as well as the realization of the characteristic Cotentin seacoast humidity.
Jean-Urbain Calmette was a paintings lover, book seller, and small-scale vintner who approached Millet quite out of the blue in 1859 asking if he might trade a cask of wine for a small painting from the master. At the time, Millet’s circle of private patrons were primarily Parisian, often fellow artists or bureaucrats, and he was charmed by Calmette’s determination in tracking him down from so far. He agreed to the exchange, offering an unidentified Shepherdess painting. A warm correspondence developed between the Cahorsien and the artist and their connection ultimately extended to Millet’s whole family (and closest Barbizon friends, Theodore Rousseau and Alfred Sensier), and was marked by gifts of Bordeaux grapes and truffled capons from the bookseller/sometime farmer. In the summer of 1861, Calmette visited Barbizon where he presumably saw the version of Sheep Grazing along a Hedgerow (fig. 1) which Millet was just finishing in compliance with a difficult contract with the dealers Ennemond Blanc and Arthur Stevens. When Calmette tried to buy that painting, Millet wrote he was unable to sell it but offered to paint a different version. Sheep Grazing along a Hedgerow is not a sketch for the larger work but rather a much more loosely painted variant, reminiscent of the pastels on which Millet was concurrently experimenting. The broadly handled paint work is a reflection of the shared appreciation of technique that united artist and patron, and the simplified J.F.M. signature is a very rarely used recognition of their closeness.