The Saint Louis Art Museum will open “Millet and Modern Art: From Van Gogh to Dalí,” an exhibition that examines, for the first time, the international legacy of the 19th-century French painter, Jean-François Millet. Millet (1814-1875) was a pioneer in developing innovative imagery of rural peasantry, landscapes and nudes, and his work had a deep impact on later generations of artists.
The exhibition is organized by the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. It opens in St. Louis on Feb. 16 and runs through May 17.
Masterworks on loan from many of the world’s greatest museums situate Millet’s imagery within the context of work by a wide, international range of artists whom he influenced. Among the latter are the Dutchman Vincent van Gogh; the Frenchmen Camille Pissarro, Georges Seurat and Claude Monet; the Italian Giovanni Segantini; the American Winslow Homer; the German Paula Modersohn-Becker; the Norwegian Edvard Munch and the Spaniard Salvador Dalí.
Rural labor was always an important theme for Millet, and the exhibition looks at imagery such as the sower, the reaper, and the gleaner, in which the artist articulated his sympathy for the marginalized rural poor and suggested larger metaphorical narratives of birth and death. Millet’s work had a particularly deep impact on Van Gogh, who referred to him as “father Millet.”
The exhibition includes several iconic images by Van Gogh, including two important paintings of “The Sower” and the Musée d’Orsay’s rarely lent “Starry Night”, which predates van Gogh’s painting of the same title in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Among the American artists represented in the show is Homer, whose “The Bright Side” reinterprets Millet’s imagery through the lens of race.
The exhibition is co-curated by Simon Kelly, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Saint Louis Art Museum, and Maite van Dijk, senior curator at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.
“Millet and Modern Art” is organized by the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, with exceptional support from the Musée d’Orsay, Paris. The exhibition is presented in St. Louis by the Betsy and Thomas Patterson Foundation. Additional support is provided by the E. Desmond Lee Family Endowment for Exhibitions; the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency; the National Endowment for the Arts; and Christie’s.
“Millet and Modern Art” is accompanied by a 208-page, fully illustrated catalogue edited by Kelly and van Dijk and published by Yale University Press. Other contributors include Nienke Bakker, senior curator of paintings at the Van Gogh Museum, and Abigail Yoder, research assistant at the Saint Louis Art Museum.
The museum will offer a scholarly symposium and an array of exhibition-related programming throughout the run of “Millet and Modern Art.” During the exhibition’s opening weekend, the museum will present “Millet and His Modernity: From Van Gogh to Dalí,” a lecture by Kelly about why Millet’s work was seen as so groundbreaking, both during his lifetime and in the decades after his death. The Feb. 16 lecture begins at 2 pm in the museum’s Farrell Auditorium; tickets are $5.
Information about those lectures, gallery talks and family programs can be found at slam.org.