Jean-François Millet (Gruchy 1814-1875 Barbizon)
The return of the shepherdess
charcoal, touches of white chalk, on purple prepared canvas
16¾ x 20¾ in. (42.7 x 52.7 cm)
The artist's studio stamp (L. 1460 or 3727).
James Staats Forbes (1823-1904), London, before 1906.
Fritz Meyer, Zurich; Frederik Muller., Amsterdam, 13 July 1926, lot 23.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby’s, London, 21 June 1988, lot 35.
L. Bénédite, The Drawings of Jean François Millet, London and Philadelphia, 1906, pl. 41.
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Lot Essay

The art critic Octave Mirbeau described Millet in 1885 as a ‘wonderful poet of nature, who has shown the moral grandeur of the “small people”’ (La France, 9 April 1885; quoted in R. Cotentin et al., Millet, exhib. cat., Lille, Palais des Beaux-Arts, 2018, p. 30). Peasant life and especially that of shepherds with their flock was one of Millet’s favourite subjects during the years 1850-1870, in drawing as well as painting.

Three other works are known which depict a shepherdess walking with a staff and followed by sheep and protective sheepdog: at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (dated circa 1863-1864); and the Frick Art and Historical Center, Pittsburgh (circa 1863-1866; see A.R. Murphy et al., Jean-François Millet. Drawn into the Light, exhib. cat., Williamstown, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute and elsewhere, 1999, nos. 62, 73, ill.); and a third, sold at Christie’s, Paris, 22 March 2017, lot 66. The latter is executed in pastel, but is of identical composition, characterized by the difference in level, with the sheep walking down as they follow the woman while the dog stands still at a higher point to the right. While all four drawings can be related to a painting known as La Grande bergère at the Musée d’Orsay, in the latter work Millet chose to depict the scene on ground level (inv. RF 1877; see op. cit., 2018, no. 73)


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