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Reckoning with Millet’s "Man with a Hoe," 1863–1900

Edited by Scott Allan, with contributions by Simon Kelly and John Ott 

A revelatory exploration of one of Jean-François Millet’s most contentious paintings.

A monumentalizing portrayal of a peasant bowed over by brutal toil, Man with a Hoe (1860–62) by Jean-François Millet (1814–1875) is arguably the most art historically significant painting in the J. Paul Getty Museum’s collection of nineteenth-century European art. This volume situates the work in the arc of Millet’s career and traces its fascinating and contentious reception, from its scandalous debut at the 1863 Paris Salon to the years following its acquisition by American collectors in the 1890s. The essays examine the painting’s tumultuous public life, beginning in France, where critics attacked it on aesthetic and political grounds as a radical realist provocation; through its transformative movement in the art market during the remaining years of the artist’s life and following his death; to its highly publicized arrival in California as a celebrated masterpiece. In the United States it was enlisted to serve philanthropic interests, became the subject of a popular poem, and once again became embroiled in controversy, in this case one that was strongly inflected by American racial politics. This is the first publication dedicated to the work since its acquisition by the Getty Museum in 1985.

This volume is published to accompany an exhibition on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center from September 12 to December 10, 2023.

Scott Allan is curator in the Department of Paintings at the J. Paul Getty Museum.

“Here is a vivid story of confrontation, speculation, and reputation. This stimulating trajectory spans Millet's painting of epic simplicity from unflinching gaze at exhaustion, via prized market capture, poetic celebrity and blunt eugenics, to celebration of the dignity of labour.”
—Richard Thomson, Research Professor in the History of Art, University of Edinburgh

136 pages
7 1/4 x 8 5/8 inches
45 color and 13 b/w illustrations
ISBN 978-1-60606-855-7

Getty Publications
Imprint: J. Paul Getty Museum