|First Steps (after Millet)|
Oil on canvas
72.4 x 91.2 cm.
Saint-Rémy: January, 1890
F 668, JH 1883
New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Without question one of the foremost influences on Vincent van Gogh would be the French painter Jean-François Millet (1814-1875). Van Gogh would write to his brother Theo as early as 1873 about his admiration for Millet's work.
After Van Gogh voluntarily admitted himself to the Saint Paul-de-Mausole asylum in Saint-Rémy, France in 1889 he would continue to work sporadically, depending on the state of his physical and mental well-being. In late 1889 Van Gogh focused his attention on copies of several of Millet's works, in part because of his lack of models during his confinement.
In October, 1889 Van Gogh wrote to his brother of his admiration for one specific Millet drawing:
Ah, now certainly you are yourself deep in nature, since you say that Jo already feels her child move--it is much more interesting even than landscapes, and I am very glad that things should have changed so for you.
So while Van Gogh was envisioning a series of copies of Millet's works, it's arguable that First Steps had a special significance to Vincent at the time because of the upcoming birth of his nephew to his brother Theo and sister-in-law Johanna.
Just as Van Gogh was greatly influenced by Jean-François Millet, so too was Millet influenced by those before him. Scenes of children learning to walk were depicted by Rembrandt as well as his pupils. Millet may also have been influenced by 15th century artists who painted the infant Jesus taking his first steps toward Mary. Millet wrote to his biographer Alfred Sensier "I shall make drawings, that is briefly the present solution. I shall make them as good as I can and, as far as possible, place them in the intimacy of life." Millet was passionate that his artworks should focus on every day scenes, which is arguably why Millet's works spoke so profoundly to Vincent van Gogh.
Millet would produce three copies of First Steps:
Van Gogh completed his version of Millet's work in January-February, 1890. He sent this and the other painted copies of Millet to Theo in Paris on 29 April 1890. Theo received these works with great enthusiasm:
The copies after Millet are perhaps the best things you have done yet, and induce me to believe that on the day you turn to painting compositions of figures, we may look forward to great surprises.
First Steps remains one of Van Gogh's most admired works. The intimate family scene has a universal appeal and the harmonious colour scheme would be typical of Van Gogh's final paintings. The subject of Millet's original and Van Gogh's copy may have spoken to Vincent on several levels: a passionate admiration for the great master Jean-François Millet, delight at the prospect of the impending birth of his brother's son, and perhaps a sense of regret for a family life that Vincent had long hoped for, but never attained.
I should very much like to see Millet reproductions in the schools. I think there are children who would become painters if only they saw such good things.
1. Ronald Pickvance, Van Gogh in Saint-Rémy and Auvers (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1986), pp. 172-73.
2. Wulf Herzogenrath and Dorothee Hansen (eds.), Van Gogh: Fields (Hatje Cantz Publishers, 2002), pp. 106-07.
3. Louis van Tilborgh (ed.), Van Gogh and Millet (Waanders, 1989), pp. 111-14.
|Theo van Gogh||Paris||France||1890||
|Johanna van Gogh-Bonger||Amsterdam||Netherlands||1891|
|Karl Ernst Osthaus||Hagen||Germany||1905||On loan of the Folkwang Museum, Essen, 1910.|
|Alfred Flechtheim Art Gallery||Düsseldorf||Germany|
|Paul Vallotton Art Gallery||Lausanne||Switzerland||31 December 1924||
|Julius Oppenheimer||New York||United States||31 July 1926|
|Frank Oppenheimer||San Francisco||United States||By 1945|
|Dalzell Hatfield Gallery||Los Angeles||United States||
|Mr. and Mrs. George N. Richard||New York||United States||1955||
|Metropolitan Museum of Art||New York||United States||1964||Gift of Mr. George N. Richard and Helen M. Richard.|
|Year||City||Country||Venue||Exhibition Name||Start Date||End Date||No.|
|1896||Rotterdam||Netherlands||Kunstzalen Oldenzeel||Vincent van Gogh: fransche periode||
|1901||Berlin (2)||Germany||Paul Cassirer||
|1905||Hagen||Germany||Folkwang Museum||Vincent van Gogh. Gemälde||
|1905||Amsterdam||Netherlands||Stedelijk Museum||Tentoonstelling Vincent van Gogh||15 July 1905||1 August 1905||173|
|1912||Hagen||Germany||Folkwang Museum||Moderne Kunst||
|1924||Zurich||Switzerland||Kunsthaus Zurich||Vincent van Gogh||3 July 1924||10 August 1924||63|
|1929||New York||United States||Museum of Modern Art||First Loan Exhibition Cézanne-Gauguin-Seurat-Van Gogh||8 November 1929||7 December 1929||88|
|1933||Chicago||United States||Art Institute of Chicago||A Century of Progress, Paintings and Sculpture||1 June 1933||1 November 1933||378|
|1940||San Francisco (1)||United States||Museum of Art||Contemporary Art||18 January 1940||5 February 1940||9|
|1949-50||New York||United States||Metropolitan Museum of Art||Vincent van Gogh Paintings and Drawings. A Special Loan Exhibition||21 October 1949||15 January 1950||127|
|1950||Chicago||United States||Art Institute of Chicago||Vincent van Gogh Paintings and Drawings. A Special Loan Exhibition||1 February 1950||16 April 1950||127|
|1985||Tokyo||Japan||National Museum of Western Art||Vincent van Gogh||12 October 1985||8 December 1985||85|
|1985-86||Nagoya||Japan||Nagoya City Museum||Vincent van Gogh||21 December 1985||2 February 1986||85|
|1986-87||New York||United States||Metropolitan Museum of Art||Van Gogh in Saint-Rémy and Auvers||12 November 1986||22 March 1987||46|
|1989||Yokohama||Japan||Yokohama Museum of Art||Treasures from the Metropolitan Museum of Art: French Art from the Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century||25 March 1989||4 June 1989||99|
|1990||Essen||Germany||Museum Folkwang||Vincent van Gogh en de moderne kunst 1890-1914||11 August 1990||4 November 1990||51|
|1990-91||Amsterdam||Netherlands||Van Gogh Museum||Vincent van Gogh en de moderne kunst 1890-1914||16 November 1990||18 February 1990||51|
|1993-94||Melbourne||Australia||National Gallery of Victoria||Van Gogh. His Sources, Genius and Influence||19 November 1993||16 January 1994||49|
|1994||Brisbane||Australia||Queensland Art Gallery||Van Gogh. His Sources, Genius and Influence||22 January 1994||13 March 1994||49|
|2002-03||Bremen||Germany||Kunsthalle||The Poppy Field and the Artist's Debate||19 October 2002||26 January 2003||31|
|2003||Toledo||United States||Toledo Museum of Art||Van Gogh: Fields||23 February 2003||18 May 2003||16|
|2008||Vienna||Austria||Albertina||Vincent van Gogh: "Drawn" Pictures||5 September 2008||7 December 2008||103|
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