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Jean-François Millet (French, 1814-1875)
Property of a Private Collector
Jean-François Millet (French, 1814-1875)

Portrait of Madame Martin

Details
Jean-François Millet (French, 1814-1875)
Portrait of Madame Martin
signed with the artist's monogram 'JFM.' (lower right)
oil on canvas
18 1/8 x 15 in. (46 x 38.1 cm.)
Painted in August 1840.
Provenance
Hamel collection, Lisieux, circa 1880-90.
Étard collection, Lisieux.
Anonymous sale; Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 22 May 1919, lot 27.
F. Cottin, Lisieux, by 1961.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, New York, 28 April 1977, lot 157.
with Galerie Schmit, Paris, 1978.
Anonymous sale; Ader, Picard, Tajan, Tokyo, 7 December 1989, lot 11.
Private collection, Japan.
Anonymous sale; Christie’s, New York, 12 October 2011, lot 26.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Literature
J. Mabire, 'Mélanges: Il y a un mystère Jean-François Millet', Révue du département de la Manche, April 1961, p. 185.
L. Lepoittevin, Jean-François Millet, portraitiste, Paris, 1971, pp. xxv-xxvi, no. 22, illustrated.
Exhibited
Douvres, France, Les Musée à Douvres-la-Délivrande, alistes et Impressionistes normands, 1961, no. 115.
Cherbourg, Musée Thomas-Henry, Cent cinquantiéme anniversaire de la naissance de Jean-François Millet, 1814-1875, 22 July-15 September 1964, p. 21, no. 26.
Paris, Musée Jacquemart-André, Exposition J. F. Millet, 17 November 1964-17 January 1965, no. 2.

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Lot Essay

Jean-François Millet painted the Portrait of Madame Martin in 1840, shortly after he left the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris to begin a career as an artist in his native Cherbourg. Portrait of Madame Martin originally formed a pair with a portrait of the sitter's husband and as one of Millet's earliest professional commissions, the picture provides an appealing glimpse of the artistic strengths and the very personal ambitions that would shape Millet's mature realism.
Millet was born in Gruchy, a very small hamlet 18 kilometers northwest of the much larger city of Cherbourg which was both an active French naval center and a major Channel port. His family's eldest son, Millet was raised to be a farmer and turned toward painting only late in his teens, at first alternating lessons from a Cherbourg artist with returns to work the family fields, and then in 1837 entering formal instruction in the studio of Delaroche at the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts, aided by a modest scholarship from the city council of Cherbourg. Millet's years in Delaroche's studio were fraught with difficulty; he felt himself frequently mocked for his provincial ways, but the master admired the young painter's powerful draftsmanship and his determination to defend his personal vision. When financial difficulties mounted, Delaroche attempted to dissuade Millet from leaving the École; but in 1840, with his first Salon acceptance - a full length portrait - behind him and a modest local celebrity in hand, Millet returned to Cherbourg to forge a future based on the only paintings for which there was much demand in a provincial city: portraiture and occasional religious pictures.
The paired portraits of Madame Martin and her husband must have been among his first commissions, as traditional history dates them to August 1840. Monsieur Martin was a veterinarian and the government inspector of butcher shops, and both he and his wife appear near in age to the 26 year-old painter himself. The close framing of Madame Martin and the relative simplicity of her pose are typical of provincial portraiture, but Millet brought to his work an exceptional ability to capture a likeness, to create a convincing, solid figure who truly holds her space, and a dash of Parisian-flavored stylishness in the intensity of the blue dress and the feathery working of her lace collar. In his handling of the broad planes of her face, the pleating of her sleeves, or the summary squiggles of her jewelry, Millet's brushwork is bold and cursory, conveying both his resistance to the slicked surfaces of most contemporary portraiture and his belief in the straight-forwardness of his technique. Millet's pride in his own success with the portrait is captured in the bold orange-red initials at lower right, his first effort to create a distinctive monogram suitable for a new career.
Most of Millet's early portraits outside his own family are unidentified, but the names of Monsieur and Madame Martin, even their street address on Rue Christine, were recorded later in the century by Gustave Amyot, a local historian who sought out Millet's earliest works across the Cherbourg region and left a manuscript record with the Cherbourg library.
We are grateful to Alexandra Murphy for confirming the authenticity of this painting and for her preparation of this catalogue entry.
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