Millet was born in Gruchy, a village in Normandy. Throughout his life, he remains proud of his peasant background and often chooses rural life as the theme of his work. In 1849, together with other artists, he settles in Barbizon, a pretty village in the forest near Fontainebleau, to the southeast of Paris. As a group they acquire the name Barbizon School and become well-known for their realistic-romantic landscapes.
Millet paints mainly the people who live and work in these landscapes. Until then, depictions of peasants and their wives in art were nothing more than a decorative element in picturesque or nostalgic scenes. Millet breaks with that tradition. He paints the men and women in a way that is simultaneously realistic and heroic, as large figures deeply connected to the land, like this imposing woman baking bread. He aims to depict the honesty and simplicity of peasant life.
Millet’s work is highly influential in the art of the 19th century. Vincent van Gogh, for instance, is well acquainted with his paintings and drawings and takes inspiration from them time and again.