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The Runaway Cart (La Charette)

While Jean-François Millet is generally thought of as a “peasant painter,” he trained under a former student of Jacques-Louis David and was well versed in classical traditions. After the Revolution of 1848, Millet’s subject matter shifted from grand epics to the lives of the rural working class. In 1849, he moved from Paris to Barbizon, where he embraced a new form of realism. While his depictions possess great dignity, they also highlight the harsh realities of peasant life. In this monumental drawing, also known as The Runaway Cart (La Charrette renverée), a farmer struggles to restrain an unruly horse, while faceless women carrying heavy bundles emerge over the hillside. The energy of the scene is intensified by the use of opposing diagonals and a shallow depth of field, showcasing Millet’s ability to elevate an everyday activity to the level of high drama.

Jean François Millet
French, 1814–1875
The Runaway Cart (La Charette)
ca. 1850–52
Charcoal on paper
Image/sheet: 27 1/8 x 20 ¼ in. (68.9 x 51.4 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Evan F. Lilly Memorial, 73.61