Jean-François Millet, The Sower, 1850 Yamanashi Prefectural Museum of Art, Japan

One of this winter’s must-see Amsterdam exhibitions opened at the Van Gogh Museum, last week. Jean-François Millet: Sowing the Seeds of Modern Art contains important works by the French master and traces his influence on artists, including Vincent van Gogh.

Planning a visit to this museum? Make sure you book your ticket(s) in advance, online, using the museum’s website. You’ll need to book a specific date and time-slot. Arriving 20 minutes early, I had to join the queu of other early arrivals and witnessed a tourist being sent away. All tickets for the day had sold out; with no other possibility offered to obtain tickets! 

This said: once inside the museum, do not just visit its important permanent collection full of works by Vincent. Take time for this main exhibition, located in the museum’s exhibition wing, with a smaller one dedicated to a series of prints by Edouard Vuillard on the top floor.

The Millet exhibition contains many works on loan from important museums. These include Millet’s The Gleaners and his The Angelus from the Musée d”Orsay in Paris. There are also beautiful works on display from the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, many other important museums, as well as from private collections.

Using a thematic display, this exhibition introduces Millet’s art and its impact and importance on fellow artists and later generations. With gret compassion, Millet painted the harsh life of French peasants. Small wonder his art struck a chord with van Gogh. After all: Vincent was familiar with the harsh life of the poor in Brabant, as well as in the Borinage. Think of van Gogh’s Potato Eaters – not displayed in this exhibition.

Millet’s importance for Vincent is illustrated by for instance his drawing of a sheep being shorn (ca. 1854) and van Gogh’s version from 1889. Or take Millet’s The Sower (1850) and compare a few versions by van Gogh, including the one from 1888. As the museum states: “… [Millet’s] type of composition was adopted by artists like Vincent van Gogh. He saw Millet as a major example, even referring to him as ‘Père Millet'(Father Millet).”

Vincent van Gogh was not the only artist influenced by Millet’s works. The exhibition contains works by Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Edgar Degas, Paul Cézanne, Jan Toorop, Edvard Munch, Kazimir Malevich and Salvador Dali – to name a few. Millet truly was a sower of the seeds of modern art!

This major and important exhibition is a collaboration of the Amsterdam Van Gogh Museum and Saint Louis Art Museum, with exceptional support from the Musée d’Orsay. It shows 128 works and is accompanied by a catalog which is on sale in the museum.

Of course, I had a good look at Millet’s drawing Women carrying Faggots, which can be spotted in a photo of the interior of Sientje and Willem Mesdag’s The Hague home. It is on display in the Amsterdam exhibition; while at the Mesdag Collection in The Hague, Millet’s influence on members of The Hague School is traced.  Kate  9th October 2019

Jean-François Millet: Sowing the Seeds of Modern Art runs at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam until 12th January .