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Portrait of Jean-François Millet

Early portrait photography frequently looked toward painted prototypes for compositional cues. While such rigid conventions often produced static images, early masters, such as Carjat and Nadar, managed to create documents that captured both the sitter’s outward appearance and inner character. In this image, despite its traditional pose within an oval frame, the French realist painter Millet’s work clothes and expression reveal his defiant attitude. Millet inscribed the photo with the message: “I love the poor, but I detest the ‘fancy waltzers.’ It is necessary to use the trivial itself in expressing the sublime.”

Etienne Carjat
French, 1828–1906
Portrait of Jean-François Millet
ca. 1870
Albumen print
Image/sheet (oval): 9 7/8 x 7 9/16in. (25.1 x 19.2 cm); mount: 18 ½ x 13 1/8in. (47.0 x 33.3 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, 76.66.2