The French artist Jean-François Millet (1814-1875) is widely considered as one of the most important Barbizon School painters, yet his enormous influence on the many generations of artists that followed him is often neglected. The exhibition Jean-François Millet: Sowing the Seeds of Modern Art illustrates just how progressive the work of Millet was in his own time and how important he became to modern artists after him, such as Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, Winslow Homer and Salvador Dalí. This is the first exhibition to explicitly focus on the international impact of the modernity of Millet’s work.

Jean-François Millet took a poetic and emphatic approach to painting, in which he chose everyday themes from peasant life, particularly the relationship between man and nature. Never before had peasant scenes been depicted in such a monumental way and with such deference. Instead of focusing on industrialisation and urbanisation as hallmarks of modern times, Millet concentrated on the hardships of peasant life. His deep understanding of this social class and his radical painting technique went against the norm. Because of this he was often criticised during his life, but his progressive approach did have an enormous impact on generations of artists to come.

Later artists appreciated not only his peasant themes, but also his nudes and landscapes – works that are nowadays less well-known. These artists also admired Millet’s anti-academic approach, inventive technique and use of materials. Into the 20th century, Millet’s renown extended from Europe to America and Russia, and he inspired artists such as Vincent van Gogh, Georges Seurat, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, Claude Monet, Winslow Homer, Paula Modersohn-Becker, Edvard Munch and Salvador Dalí.

Millet was an artistic hero of Vincent van Gogh, who took on similar subject matter to Millet such as The Sower. In the final year of his life, Van Gogh even painted a striking series of 20 ‘copies’ of works by Millet. Jean-François Millet: Sowing the Seeds of Modern Art places Millet’s paintings, drawings and pastels in the context of a large number of 19th- and early 20th-century international avant-garde artists, who were inspired by the French painter.

Jean-François Millet: Sowing the Seeds of Modern Art is the result of collaboration between the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Van Gogh Museum.