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Jean-François Millet, The Winnower

Key facts
Full title The Winnower
Artist Jean-François Millet
Artist dates 1814 - 1875
Date made about 1847-8
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 100.5 × 71 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1978
Inventory number NG6447
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
The Winnower
Jean-François Millet

In a gloomy barn a winnower holds a wide, shallow basket with no lip at the front. With skilful shaking, the chaff could be worked to the front and tipped over the edge, leaving the grain behind. This painting is one of Millet’s first to treat the theme of peasant life. He exhibited it to some acclaim at the Salon of 1848, the year of the revolution that led to the downfall of King Louis-Philippe and the establishment of the Second Republic. One of the factors leading up to the revolution was rural distress, including bad harvests, and many commentators discern a political angle in the painting, or at least sympathy on the part of the artist towards agricultural workers.

At this stage in his career Millet often reused his canvases. This picture is painted over a sequence of limbs, possibly studies of naked figures Millet had carried out as part of his training.

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