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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Taking it Easy in the Countryside

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Millet?s paintings served as inspiration to giants like Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet and even Salvador Dali.

In the mid 19th century, as the industrial revolution was ramping up, Jean Francois Millet was taking it easy in the countryside. Millet, famous for his images of working people, the farmers and laborers outside of the city, was born in a small French town named Guchy, far away from the hurried cosmopolitan of Paris. The exhibit Millet and the Rural France, on display at the Museum of Fine Arts now through May, highlights the painter’s affection for folk life. The show is a small one, with a total of about 40 paintings. Helen Burnham, the curator, who was only given a small corridor to hang the works, does an excellent job of mixing mediums. There are drawings, watercolors, etchings, and a few oil paintings sprinkled in. There are no surprises in this show. It is mostly composed of landscapes of the provincial fields growing towards a warmly rendered sun. Millet is excellent with light. In the pastel painting titled “Shepherdess and Flock at Sunset” he magnificently captures the bright and changing facets of a lowering sun against the silhouetted figures. In Millet’s day, his work was more than just a pretty picture. While his contemporaries in the Parisian Salon were painting mythical, historical and religious subjects, Millet went another route, idealizing a lifestyle that was generally considered drab at best. His fascination with the romance of the countryside and its hardworking people often left him with the label of socialist. Yet, today his works seemed to have almost entirely lost their provocative edge. Maybe it has something to do with the refined museum they are displayed in, or the wealthy Bostonians that first collected the works. For the modern viewer, the subjects of Millet’s painting appear pleasant and benign. The exhibit is an excellent place to get acquainted with the renowned artist’s technique up-close, like in a wonderful etching of “The Gleaners,” used as a draft for the larger painting. Another highlight is a precious pastel titled “Noonday Rest,” where Millet softly depicts two farmers, a man and a woman, napping on haystacks, shoes and sickles by their sides. Millet’s paintings provide a perfect escape from city life. The colorfulness and realism of “Training Grape Vines” made me feel as if I was there, together with the stooped over man, tending to the plants under the blue sky. After spending most of my summer pent up in the greater Boston area, this exhibit felt like a true getaway. Millet and Rural France will be up until May 30th. General admission to the Museum of Fine Arts is free with your UMass ID.