Jean-François Millet

France, b.1814, d.1875

Le départ pour le travail [Leaving for Work]

  • Purchased 1977
  • Etching
  • 479 x 360mm
  • 78/114
  • 1863

Following the French Revolution of 1848, many artists involved with the Barbizon School were interested in depicting workers, such as this peasant couple, living harmoniously with nature and going steadily about their hard and unremitting labours. Jean-François Millet moved to Barbizon in 1849. This is the etched version of Millet’s painting of the same name, which he had completed in 1851. Part of the work’s visual strength comes from the deeply etched lines that sharply model the couple's clothing and provide contrasts of light and shade on their faces. Born in Normandy into a peasant family, Millet worked on the land as a young man. In 1837, however, he entered the studio of Paul Delaroche (1797-1856) in Paris. He exhibited with the Salon in 1840. Millet spent many years living in poverty but in the 1860s his work became more popular and a retrospective exhibition of his work was held at the Éxposition Universelle in Paris in 1867. Millet was awarded the Légion d’Honneur in 1868.

earlier labels about this work
  • Following the 1848 French Revolution, the Barbizon school of painters to which Millet belonged had new attitudes towards realism in art and the romanticism of peasant life. The artists were interested in depicting the self-denial and resignation of the worker who, living harmoniously with nature, went steadily and serenely on with their hard and unremitting labours.

    Along with his famous paintings on this theme, Millet also made 44 etchings. Among them is Departure for Work, which is his last large-scale etching, and possibly his most important print. The peasants are presented with rugged directness and because of the selected low viewpoint they tower grandly above the fields, their feet firmly planted on the ground. Grave and conscious of their mission, they are rather reminiscent of other images showing Adam and Eve being expelled from Paradise.

    The woman has her basket over her head to shield her from the strong sunlight which Millet has suggested by the darkness of the shadows. These he made by a prolonged biting of the plate in the acid. Sometimes he left it in overnight to make these deep lines. The contrast is also very strong in the light and shade over the faces and against the more open and less defined forms in the background.

    This plate, which was printed in 7 states, was commissioned by Alfred Sensier and printed first in 1863 and then again in 1867, when it is likely this impression was made.

    (Label date unknown)