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Jean-François MILLET

(Gréville-Hague 1814 – Barbizon 1875)

The meridian

Black pencil on paper

22,5 x 33,5 cm


Study for Le Midi, part of a series of engravings Les Quatre Heures du jour : scènes rustiques, engraved by Adrien Lavieille, after the original drawings by J.F. Millet, published in Paris, J. Claye, 1860



Sale of the artist’s studio, Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 10-11 May 1875, probably part of lot 173 or 175, Sleeping Harvesters, stamped bottom right (L.1460)

Michel Boy, his sale in Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 17 June 1905, No. 90 Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox, London, Galerie De Bayser.

In the foreground, a peasant is sleeping, semi-recumbent on his back, his arms folded behind his head; next to him, a sleeping peasant woman is sketched, her face resting in the hollow of her arms, lying on her side.

This leaf is linked to Millet’s composition “La Méridienne”, whose final state is now lost and which represents a couple of peasants asleep in the shade of a millstone and which was part of the cycle of “Four Hours of the Day : Scènes rustiques”, comprising “Le Matin” (“The Morning”), “Le Midi” (“The Midday”), “Le Soir” (“The Evening”) and “La Nuit” (“The Night”). These drawings engraved by Jacques-Adrien Lavieille were published together in 1860 (Paris, J. laye) and then separately in L’Illustration. Journal universel (Saturday, July 26, 1873, 31st year, vol. LXII, n°1587, p.57).


Following a frequent practice with Millet, the study was reused for other works. Among these variants, the best known is the 1866 pastel La Méridienne (Boston, Museum of Fine Arts), which takes up the posture of the engraving, reversed in relation to that of the drawing. In the words of Van Gogh, who pays homage to Millet’s sleeping peasants in his famous painting La Méridienne (1889-1890, Musée d’Orsay, RF 1952 17), the pastel translates “into another language, that of colors, the impressions of chiaroscuro in white and black” [1].

Wrapped by a warm light, his face protected by his hat, the peasant lets himself go to a fruitful resourcing of this land on which he rests, with which he is at one with, thanks to the siesta allowing him to regain the strength necessary to work it again. In another pastel on the same theme, Millet transforms the sleeping peasant by observing him from the front, completely at ground level (Philadelphia, Museum of Fine Arts). Around 1874, he drew in pastel and Conté pencil a shepherdess sleeping in the shade of an oak bush (Reims, Museum of Fine Arts), observed from the same point of view, at the same level as the blades of grass on which she rests.


In the study for “Le Midi”, the emphasis is on the sleeping man, more than on the woman, who is only sketched out and for whom the Musée d’Orsay already has a completed study (RF 250). Not only are representations of sleeping men much rarer than those of the “sleeping beauties” but, moreover, this contemporary sleeper from the world of the working class is far removed from the tradition of sleepers placed in a narrative context that refers to mythology (Le Sommeil d’Endymion, Psyche and Sleeping Love…), the Bible (The Dream of Jacob, Ruth and Boaz…), literature (Dream of Ossian…) and allegory (Sleeping Genie). Millet realistically draws the relaxation of the body: the legs spread out, the feet fan out. The sleeping peasant is not graceful, his abandonment in sleep is not a pretext to observe his beauty without his knowledge.


With the help of an expressive and synthetic line, Millet encircles his sleeper with a thick black pencil line as if to signify the gravity to which his model surrenders. A few signs, quick lines for the hay of the millstones in the shade of which the peasant sleeps, are enough to inscribe it in space and anchor it in the ground. The shadows drawn by the hatching and the black highlights model the relief of the body. Significant details underline the impression of relaxation: the hat is tilted so as to protect the eyes from the light, the gondola blouse, the folds of the armpits are tightened, the trousers are pulled up, the garment slackens like the body that inhabits it. Through this study, even before the complete engraved version and the famous pastel version, Millet succeeds in giving the image of a simple man bathed in the comfort of sleep, on this earth from which both he draws his resources and on which he rests.


Note by Leila Jarbouai, curator of the Musée d’Orsay