Thursday, July 24, 2014

If this is Thursday it must be postcards, 152

 The Angelus by Jean François Millet, 1857-59


Some postcards, like this one, have pictures of famous paintings or other familiar works of art.  This beautiful painting called The Angelus (1857-59) is by Jean François Millet who was a French artist born in 1814 and who died at age 60 in 1875.  The original painting changed hands several times and now hangs in the Musée D’Orsay in Paris, France.  The title of the painting comes from the first line in the Angelus prayer.  There is some controversy over whether the man and woman are giving thanks at the end of the day for their harvest or if it was originally a funeral scene with a couple praying for a dead child.  An X-ray of the painting showed a geometric shape like a coffin that was painted over to become the basket holding the potatoes by the woman’s feet.  It is unclear if Millet changed his mind on the meaning of the painting or if the shape was even supposed to be a coffin.  The painting became popular and was reproduced frequently during the 19th and 20th centuries, which may partially explain how it ended up as a postcard image.

Millet was born in the farming community of Gruchy, Gréville-Hague, Normandy, France.  His early education was guided by two village priests who taught him Latin and modern literature.  In 1833 he went to Cherbourg to study portrait painting with Paul Dumouchel and by 1835 he was studying full-time with Lucien T. Langlois.  Langlois and others provided Millet with a stipend that allowed him to move to Paris and study at the École des Beaux-Arts with Paul Delaroche.  Millet was one of several artists who eventually settled in Barbizon and established what came to be called the Barbizon school.  His painting style is known as Realism and his subject matter was often peasant subjects having to do with farming and everyday activities.  Some of his more famous works are “Woman Baking Bread, 1854,” “The Sower, 1850,” “The Gleaners, 1857,” “The Potato Harvest, 1855,” and this one on the card, “The Angelus, 1857-1859.”  During his life his works received mixed reviews and it was not until toward the end of his life that he achieved financial success and increased recognition.  His works are said to have been an important inspiration for Vincent Van Gogh who also produced some paintings of potato farmers. 

An American art collector, Thomas Gold Appleton,  commissioned The Angelus but never collected it.  It is famous today for driving Barbizon artwork prices up to record amounts in the late 19th century.  About 10 years after Millet died The Angelus sold for 800,000 gold francs.  In today’s money it would be at least 10 million dollars.   Due to the difference in the auction prices and the art market  compared to the value of Millet’s estate a French law called “droit de suite” or “right to follow” was passed to compensate artists or their heirs when the work was resold. 

The postcard was published in Germany by Stengel, is unused with a divided back and has a short statement in German about the artist at the bottom left on the reverse.

For additional information about the painting and the prayer, see:

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