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Millet works reveal turning point in art

Four masterpieces of 19th-century French painter featured in visiting exhibition of Boston Museum treasures

Four masterpieces of Jean-Francois Millet depicting farmers and shepherds will be on view in Seoul for the first time.

The touring exhibition, entitled “Millet, Barbizon and Fontainebleau,” started in Boston and stopped through Japan before arriving in Seoul on Jan. 23 with 64 paintings, including major works of Millet and his contemporaries of the Barbizon School, the critical art movement that acted as a bridge realism and impressionism.

The exhibition will showcase major works of Millet, mostly those portraying peasants in “The Sower,” “Potato Planters” and “Harvesters Resting (Ruth and Boaz),” along with other landscape pieces by artists such as Camille Corot, Theodore Rousseau and Claude Monet. The 19th-century paintings mark the critical period in the history of art. It was after this period that artists moved on from producing heroic and biblical paintings to realist images. 
Potato Planters” by Jean-Francois Millet (MFA, Boston)
Potato Planters” by Jean-Francois Millet (MFA, Boston)
“Self-portrait” by Jean-Francois Millet (MFA, Boston)
“Self-portrait” by Jean-Francois Millet (MFA, Boston)

“Millet and the School of Barbizon hold much significance in the history of art as they formed the basis for Impressionism,” said Seo Sun-ju, commissioner of the exhibition, at the press conference last week in Seoul. Seo is behind major exhibitions of Western painting masters in Seoul such as Picasso, Van Gogh, Renoir, Rodin and Gaugin for the past decade.

“This exhibition is one of the most well―researched exhibitions, revealing Millet’s collections of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts,” said Seo. The MFA had planned the exhibition for four years to commemorate Millet’s 200th birthday in 2014.

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts holds 170 pieces of Millet’s works, the largest collection of his paintings in the world. Millet’s paintings were introduced to Boston after Boston-based painter William Morris Hunt traveled to the village of Barbizon, near the Forest of Fontainebleau, to meet Millet, whose realist images had been some of the most talked-about paintings of the 1850s.

Hunt purchased “The Sower” and started a trend for collecting French mid-century paintings in Boston, many of which are now in the museum’s collection. 
“The Sower” by Jean-Francois Millet (MFA, Boston)
“The Sower” by Jean-Francois Millet (MFA, Boston)

The key work in this exhibition “The Sower,” which depicts a farmer striding through a plot of land as he sows his crops, is also known to be the piece that inspired van Gogh during the course of his career. Van Gogh admired Millet’s portrayal of peasants and tried to emulate them in drawings. “Potato Planters” that share the similar composition with “The Angelus” had also inspired van Gogh to produce his own painting “The Potato Eaters.” “The Angelus,” two peasants praying in a field over a basket of potatoes, is part of the collection of the Orsay Museum in Paris.

The exhibition runs from Jan. 23 to May 10 at Soma Museum in Seoul. Admission is 14,000 won for adults, 10,000 won for teenagers and 8,000 won for children. For more information, visit or call 1588-2618.

By Lee Woo-young (
Korea Herald Youtube