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Jean Francois Millet
Millet: Un paysan reposant sur sa houe (1863)
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum

Vincent van Gogh
Van Gogh: Le Batteur de blé (1889)
Amsterdam: Van Gogh Museum

Millet, Van Gogh
at the Musée d'Orsay

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 7 October 1998 - A fascinating exhibition, Millet / Van Gogh, showing works from American and European collections opened at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris on September 14th.

Paintings of Jean-François Millet(1814-1875) have been hung alongside those of his disciple and fervent admirer, Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890), the works of the latter being assiduous "copies" of the French master.

Far from reproducing Millet's sober rural scenes, Van Gogh has created paintings of genius, fore-runners of the Impressionist movement. Millet's dark browns and sombre greys have been sublimated into works ablaze with sunlight, awash with iridescent greens, blues and yellows.

"They are not copies," Van Gogh told his brother, Theo, "but translations into another language".

Inspired by his "Maitre", Vincent Van Gogh re-invented many of Millet's pictures including The Siesta , The Sower, Crows in Winter and First Steps during his convalescence in Saint-Rémy-de Provence in the summer of 1889. Intended as an exercise, the Dutchman never intended these paintings, amongst the most beautiful he created, to be put on sale.

Van Gogh first saw Millet's work at an exhibition at the Hotel Drouot four years earlier, and likened the experience to "walking on hallowed ground",seeing only a search for God and Eternity in the French artist's country scenes and landscapes. He never knew that Jean-François Millet ate abundantly, had wealthy friends, or that his paintings sold.

When the tortured Dutchman moved to Auvers-sur-Oise barely a year later, the influence of Millet, the artist he believed had struggled all his life to get closer to God was eclipsed, and nothing could prevent the final tragedy. He attempted to commit suicide on July 27th,1890, and died from his injuries two days later.

Musée d'Orsay 1, Rue de la Légion d'Honneur 75007 Paris

Millet / Van Gogh " 14 September 1998 - 3 January 1999

Photos: courtesy of Musée d'Orsay

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