Jean-François Millet ( 1814 – 1875 )
La laitière normande
Red Chalk – 225 mm × 163 mm
Stamped with the estate stamp, J.F.M, lower right
- Possibly Charles Tillot, Barbizon and Paris, acquired from the artist’s family about 1875, his sale, Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 14 May 1887, lot 38
- J. Staats Forbes, London, before 1904
- L. W. Livesey, London, sold on 25 November 1911 to
- Galerie Heinemann, Munich (inv. 13008, Kat. 86), sold on 25 November 1916 for 1,200 Mark to
- Dr. Hans Wendland, Lugano
- With Frans Buffa, Amsterdam, 1930
- Dr. H. Wiegersma, Deurne, Holland
- Sale: London, Sothebys, 25 November 1959, lot 78, purchased by
- Hazlitt Gallery, London
- Stephen Spector, New York, 1963
- Wildenstein and Co., London, 1969
- Mrs. A. Loria, London
- Private collection, England
- L. Bénédite, The Drawings of J. F. Millet, London, 1906, pl. 32, as La Porteuse d’eau
- R. L. Herbert, “La laitière normande à Gré́ville de J. F. Millet,” in La Revue du Louvre et des Musées de France, February 1980, p. 15, fig. 4, D.2
- London, Leicester Galleries, The Staats Forbes Collection of One Hundred Drawings by Jean François Millet, 1906, cat. no. 76, as La Porteuse d’eau
- Leipzig, Leipziger Kunstverein, according to an undated label on the backing, with associated no. 6784
- London, Hazlitt Gallery, Some Paintings of the Barbizon School, May 1960, cat. no. 20, reproduced and illustrated on cover
- Amercan Federation of the Arts, The Road to Impressionism, 1963-64, travelling exhibition, cat. no. 39
- London, Wildenstein & Co. Ltd., J.-F. Millet (1814-1875), 1969, cat. no. 50, illustrated
Jean-François Millet drew this powerful study of a milkmaid returning from the fields in 1849-50 as preparation for one of his first significant compositions to confront the traditional depiction of the rural worker in French art. The most finished of four sheets of drawings that led to a small painting also titled La laitière normande (Princeton University Art Museum), this striking sanguine attests to Millet’s determination to capture the actual gestures and real strains that shape the human figure at work. Created concurrently with his landmark Salon paintings of Le vanneur (National Gallery, London) in 1848 and Le semeur (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) in 1850, La laitière normande marks the new direction in Millet’s art and establishes the centrality of figure study to his developing Realism.
Millet grew up in Contentin Normandy where tending a small family herd of cows and producing butter or cheese was a principal responsibility for a young woman. He understood the milkmaid’s long hours; he knew the heaviness of her copper canne. Importantly, he also recognized the disservice done such hard-working women by conventional imagery that had long depicted the milkmaid as the quintessential country girl, naïve and susceptible to the lures of young men, or the foolish exemplar of the old adage, “There’s no use in crying over spilt milk.” The milkmaids of Boucher, Fragonard and popular theater dressed in tightly laced corsets and danced through their tasks as if the shiny cannes had no weight at all. Indeed, Millet himself had tucked just such a balletic milkmaid into a large signboard painted for a Cherbourg veterinarian in 1841; but when he returned to the theme at the end of the decade, Millet was searching for subjects that would allow him to explore the human figure at work and (perhaps) to right the city-bound art lover’s dismissive view of the countryside.
Four sheets of drawings (all sanguine, a medium Millet used only briefly in the late 1840s) are known for Millet’s 1849 painting: the first with three small sketches of the figure from two angles (Cabinet des dessins, GM 10442); a large, unevenly worked drawing that sets up the placement of the milkmaid’s arms but tilts her head and torso further to the right (private collection, Germany); the present drawing; and a now-lost sheet that situates the milkmaid in a rough pasture with cows (last known Amsterdam, 1903). In contrast to the uneven emphasis in the other sheets, the present drawing flows as one piece, with Millet’s strengthening of critical contours in the milkmaid’s right shoulder and the long line of her left side creating a tension and a space that focus attention on the young woman’s outstretched arm and the assured curl with which her fingers manage the long cord that secures her canne against her shoulder. Millet would reconsider the theme of the Norman milkmaid at least a half-dozen times over the next twenty years, changing her costume, broadening the landscape; but the essential poise and gesture that establish her mastery of her task are set out in this drawing of La laitière normande.
The well preserved, heavily layered collection of dealer marks and exhibition labels on the old backing board of La laitière normande provides an exceptionally complete history for the drawing. Like nearly all of Millet’s working drawings, La laitière normande remained in his studio at his death, as the cachet d’atelier of the artist’s initials at lower right attests. There is no record of the drawing’s sale, but it seems likely that this is the sanguine of La laitière normande that belonged a few years later to Charles Tillot (a young artist and critic who served as one of Millet’s executors and was an avid collector of Millet’s drawings); however the similarity in size of three of the Norman milkmaid drawings prevents certainty of Tillot’s ownership. The reproduction of the drawing in colour in Bénédite’s album of drawings from J. Staats Forbes’ collection (London and Philadelphia, 1906) has given the drawing a well-deserved measure of fame but has confused its identity with the incorrect title Porteuse d’eau.