barber institute of fine arts
university of birmingham

Jean-François Millet (1814-1875)

The Diggers

Paris, about 1855-56



Two men are digging in an inhospitable landscape.

Their strong shoulders, curved backs and widely planted legs suggest the strenuous nature of their task. Millet often regarded peasant figures as evoking a sense of eternal and timeless toil in an unforgiving world. He un-idealised visions were seen by many of his contemporaries as representing the heroic and exploited worker, and therefore calling for drastic change in the lives of France’s peasants. Millet influenced Vincent Van Gogh’s early sty;e; a comparable scene of rural labour by Van Gogh is in the Barber Institute’s collection, entitled ‘A Peasant Woman Digging’, 1885 (No.61.8). This etching was made near the start of his experimentations with printmaking. He was technically skilled and innovative, but never considered prints central to his practice. This work was executed alongside his painting of the subject (now in the Tweed Museum of Art, University of Minnesota Duluth), and so may have been used to advertise and document this picture, as well as to provide a more widely available collector’s item.

Purchased 1960 (60.9)

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