New acquisition: Peasant Spreading Manure by Jean-François Millet

16 NOV 2023 13:12 | Van Gogh Museum

Photo caption: Jean-François Millet (1814-1875) Mest verspreidende boer / Peasant Spreading Manure, 1851 olieverf op doek / oil on canvas, 37,3 × 55,2 cm Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (aankoop met steun van de VriendenLoterij en de leden van de Yellow House Circle) / Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (purchased with support from the VriendenLoterij and the members of the Yellow House Circle)

The Van Gogh Museum has acquired a superb example of a painting by Jean-François Millet, who was an important source of inspiration for Van Gogh.

Millet at the Van Gogh Museum

The Van Gogh Museum has wanted to add a painting by Jean-François Millet (1814-1875) to its collection for many years. The acquisition of Peasant Spreading Manure enables the museum to show how important Millet was to Van Gogh and many other 19th-century artists. The new acquisition is now on display alongside a number of paintings and drawings by Van Gogh, which clearly show Millet’s influence. 

A tough life

The peasant depicted in Peasant Spreading Manure (1851) is labouring to spread heavy manure over the field. He has hung his jacket and hat on the pitchfork behind him. Millet contrasted the earthy colours in the foreground with the colourful, soft tones of the twilight. This heralded the end of the workday, and a moment of rest for the peasant. Millet emphasised the tough life that peasants led in his work, and many artists admired him for this. Millet was perhaps Van Gogh’s most significant role model. He saw him as ‘PèRE Millet, that is, counsellor and guide in everything, for the younger painters’.

Role model 

In his younger years whilst working in the art trade, Van Gogh collected cheap reproductive prints of Millet’s work. When he decided to become an artist at the age of 27, he wanted to follow in Millet’s footsteps and become a painter of peasant life. The prints in his collection were an important source of inspiration. He made precise drawn copies of the prints, as well as freely painted interpretations using his own colour combinations. One critic observed of Millet’s work: ‘His peasants appear to have been painted with the earth they sow’. This inspired Van Gogh, and he put this into practice is his own paintings, such as The Potato Eaters (1885).


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