This work is only one of a handful of pastel-colored drawings to survive from the critical years in Millet's career before his definitive move out of Paris to Barbizon in 1849. With its careful ambiguous subject and its unusual medium, Mère et ses deux enfants echoes with the influence of artists as different as Diaz and Daumier, reflecting Millet's wide-ranging search during the second half of the 1840s for a new style and an appropriate message to replace the romanticism of his early work.
Barefoot and leaning on a walking staff, the young woman who turns from the door step to look at the viewer is clearly a traveler. But whether she and the children with her are homeless wanderers seeking protection or simply villagers grateful to have reached their own doorway ahead of the storm that swirls her skirts is left for the viewers to resolve. The child bundled on the woman's back sleeps undisturbed but the young girl huddled beside her appears gaunt and might be wiping tears from her eyes or merely shielding them from dust. In the paintings that follow this composition by no more than a year or two, Millet tackled the contemporary problem of homeless women and children much more directly; but here he seems to be teasing the truth out of a scene he may have glimpsed but not yet fully comprehended.
The pastel is stamped with the J.F. Millet cachet d'atelier that was created by the artist's heirs to authenticate unfinished or unsigned works on paper that were part of his widow's estate at the time of her death in 1894.
Alexandra Murphy has confirmed the authenticity of this work. We are grateful for her assistance in preparing this catalogue note.