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Jean-François Millet (French, 1814-1875)
PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE COLLECTOR
Jean-François Millet (French, 1814-1875)

Portrait of a Woman, probably the Artist's Sister

Details
Jean-François Millet (French, 1814-1875)
Portrait of a Woman, probably the Artist's Sister
with inscription 'ce tableau est de François Millet/peint en 1841/A. Freret' (on the reverse)
oil on board laid down on panel
16 x 12 ¾ in. (40.6 x 32.4 cm.)
Painted circa 1841-1842.
Provenance
Alfred Beurdeley (1847-1919), Paris.
His sale; Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, 6-7 May 1920, lot 99, as Paysanne coiffée d'un haut bonnet normand.
with Galerie Claude Aubry, Paris, by 1971.
with Jean-Luc Baroni Ltd., by 2010.
Literature
P. Millet, 'The Story of Millet's Early Life, told by his Younger Brother,' The Century Magazine, vol. 45, New York, November 1892-April 1893, p. 383.
L. Lepoittevin, Jean-François Millet, Portraitiste, Paris, 1971, no. 97, as Femme inconnue (with incorrect date).
Exhibited
Seoul, Deoksugung Palace, Jean-François Millet et les peintres de la vie rurale en France au XIXème siècle, 1972, no. 5, illustrated.
New York, Jean-Juc Baroni Ltd., Master Drawings and Paintings, 22 January-2 February 2010, no. 34, illustrated.

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Lot Essay

Datable to 1841 or 1842, Alexandra Murphy believes that this charming portrait depicts one of Millet’s younger sisters, either Marie (born 1821) or Henriette (born 1823), and was one of a group of seven portraits of family members that artist undertook at his mother’s request upon his return from his artistic training in Paris. The sitter’s striking coiffe of white linen identifies her as a native of the area around Gréville, where the artist was born. Murphy suggests that the free, confident brushwork that forms the figure’s cap, and the careful, tender modelling of the face in this intimate little portrait indicate that the artist was painting for the enjoyment of the act of painting, rather than working to fulfill a paid commission. Like many of Millet’s early works, the present portrait is unsigned, though the inscription of the reverse reads ‘ce tableau est de François Millet/peint en 1841’. François was the name by which Millet was known among his family, and Murphy suggests that this inscription may have been made by a close colleague or friend of the artist. Murphy posits that this work may have remained with Millet’s descendants until about the 1910s, when many works which had stayed with his family came to market following the deaths of several of Millet’s children.
Millet was born in Normandy, though traveled to Paris to train at the École des Beaux-Arts. After finding life as an artist in Paris extremely competitive, Millet returned to Normandy in around 1840, where he travelled between the larger cities of that region and Paris taking on portrait commissions as well as the occasional religious commission and small rural genre scenes. This work enhanced both Millet’s reputation and confidence, and he returned to Paris full-time in the mid-1840s. Though best known today for his later realist scenes of peasant life, Millet was an accomplished portraitist as well, and in the years before his return to the capital Murphy describes him as ‘the greatest portrait painter working outside Paris.’
We are grateful to Alexandra Murphy for confirming the authenticity of this work.

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