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Portrait of a naval officer

Jean-François Millet

(1814 - 1875) | 893.4

Date : Circa 1845 | Medium : Oil on canvas

Jean-François Millet always found it hard to adapt to convention, which made life very difficult for him in the traditionalist society of Cherbourg. As a portraitist with a local reputation, he was still relying on this speciality when he went to live in le Havre in 1845 with a young girl of seventeen, Catherine Lemaire, whom he met after the death of his first wife. But 1845 was also the year when Millet left for Paris. Here, in poverty, he began to paint in the genre that subsequently brought him success: naturalistic subjects. From then on, he painted no more portraits.

The Rouen picture is a particularly accomplished example of the portraits he painted for a living, with its broad execution. And yet in some respects it already foreshadows the artist's grand style of the years 1846-1851. There is already more obvious rigour and control in the brushwork and composition than in other portraits of the same period. The drawing is cleaner, the outlines better defined and the textures firmer. It has none of the Neoclassicism of his teacher, Langlois, or Delaroche. With these creamy, blended colours depicting the face in a smooth, sensual substance, Millet's art is closer to the great 16th century Venetian masters, or possibly Prud’hon. Already a close student of human nature, the painter succeeds in expressing a complex psychology – that of a man, Amable Gachot, who has all the pride of a social position (gained mainly through his marriage with the daughter of a wealthy notable of Le Havre); a man with an independent character, who knows Millet well, with an unwavering gaze looking into the distance; a man who has not made a career through lack of adaptability (that, at least, was Admiral Le Predour's view of him).