Jean-Francois Millet (French, 1814-1875)
The Sewing Lesson, ca. 1860
Charcoal and pastel on cream laid paper 15 in. x 12 in. (38.1 cm x 30.48 cm)
Crocker Art Museum Purchase1976.11
Born to a peasant family in Gruchy in Normandy, Millet became known for introducing peasant imagery to paintings that emphasized the humble dignity of laborers. Trained by the painters Dumouchel and Langlois, he entered the École des Beaux-Arts on scholarship in 1837 and studied with Paul Delaroche for two years. The artist moved frequently in his early career, especially after the early death of his first wife. In Paris, he met artists of the Barbizon school such as Théodore Rousseau, but he had more success at the Salon than that often-refused artist. In the late 1840s and 1850s he began to receive French government commissions and private ones from French and American patrons. By 1870, he was elected to the Salon jury, and he died a wealthy and respected artist.
Previously unpublished, this pastel is related to an unfinished painting of a similar subject in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Though the figures are closely related, the pastel and the painting differ in the background: the landscape is more distant in the painting, the basket of mending stands on a stool rather than the ground, and the cat has moved from one side of the windowsill to the other. Both painting and pastel evoke tender affection in a humble world.