The impending storm poses a real threat to this woman and her child, whose subsistence depends on the stray sticks of firewood they have gathered. Throughout the 1840s the number of homeless peasants increased dramatically in France, reaching a crisis in the recession of 1847 and contributing to the fall of King Louis-Philippe in the 1848 revolution. Millet's singular image, rivalling Delacroix in its depth of emotion and Daumier in its graphic economy, probably represents Millet’s first treatment of this theme. He reworked the composition in a painting now in the Denver Art Museum.
Inscription: signed (lower left): J.F. Millet
Seymour collection, Paris; Henri Varnier, Reims; [Durand-Ruel, Paris, about 1890]; [Wallis & Son, London; sold to Henry]; H. S. Henry, Philadelphia (until 1907; his sale, American Art Association, New York, January 25, 1907, no. 22, for $6,700 to Billings); C. K. G. Billings, New York (from 1907–26; his sale, American Art Association, New York, January 8, 1926, no. 2, for $2200 to Benguiat for Vander Poel); his daughter, Mrs. W. Halsted Vander Poel (née Blanche Pauline Billings), New York (1926–51; given to Hofstra); Hofstra Museum of Fine Art, later the Emily Lowe Gallery, Hofstra University, Hempstead, N. Y. (1951–at least 1985; acc. no. 51.1); Sale (sold to Tang and Wood); Sarina Tang and Peter M. Wood, New York (by 1991–2002)
Tokyo. Bunkamura Museum of Art. "Jean-François Millet," August 10–September 23, 1991, no. 9 (lent by Sarina Tang collection, New York).
Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art. "Jean-François Millet," October 3–27, 1991, no. 9.
Yamanashi Prefectural Museum of Art. "Jean-François Millet," November 3–December 8, 1991, no. 9.
Alfred Sensier. La Vie et l'oeuvre de J.-F. Millet. Paris, 1881, p. 84, dates it to Millet's stay at Le Havre in 1845 and calls it "Vieille femme et enfant revenant de faire du bois".
"Art Sensation of the Year." New York Times (January 23, 1907), p. 8.
"Billings to Sell 31 Great Masters." New York Times (December 6, 1925), p. E14, notes that it is from the Henry sale.
"Billings Paintings Sell for $401,300." New York Times (January 9, 1926), p. 14, remarks that V. L. Benquiat bought it for $2,200.
"C. K. Billings, Noted Sportsman." New York Times (May 7, 1937), p. 25, possibly this picture.
Lucien Lepoittevin. Jean-François Millet. Paris, 1975, vol. 2, pp. 76, 103, ill., calls it "L'Orage," dates it about 1848–50, and mentions that it was once owned by Durand-Ruel.
Robert Herbert. Jean-François Millet. Exh. cat., Hayward Gallery. [London], 1976, p. 66, under no. 28 [French ed., Paris, 1975, p. 78, under no. 46], dates it 1845–46 and calls the subject "an aged fagot-gatherer [sic] hurrying a child through a forlorn landscape, threatened by a mighty storm".
Bruce Laughton. "A Group of Millet Drawings of the Female Nude." Master Drawings 17 (Spring 1979), pp. 44–47, 50 n. 6, fig. 3, relates this painting to a black chalk drawing of three female figures (Kupferstichkabinett der Öffentlichen Kunstsammlung, Basel, inv. no. 1961.15, 21.2 x 29 cm) and to two other paintings identical in size, "The Return from the Fields" (Cleveland Museum of Art) and "The Return of the Flock" (Musée du Louvre, Paris); suggests that these three paintings should be dated about 1846–47, based on the use of Catherine Lemaire as his model, between her pregnancies with his first and second child, or July 1846–July 1847.
Robert L. Herbert. Letter to Lenore Golub. May 16, 1984, mentions two studies for it: the drawing in Basel (formerly in the Rouart collection) and the study of both figures from Cherbourg [then believed lost].
Four Hundred Selections from the Permanent Art Collection of Hofstra University. Hempstead, N.Y., 1985, pp. intro., 36, ill.
Alexandra R. Murphy. Retreat from the Storm by Jean-François Millet. March 18, 1991, unpaginated, dates it 1845–46 and calls it his earliest treatment of the subject, noting that it was made well before he moved to Barbizon at the end of the decade.
Bruce Laughton. The Drawings of Daumier and Millet. New Haven, 1991, p. 214 n. 49, mentions it in discussing the preparatory drawing in Basel.
Alexandra R. Murphy inJean-François Millet (1814–1875). Exh. cat., Bunkamura Museum of Art. [Tokyo], 1991, pp. 30.
Yoichiro Ide inJean-François Millet (1814–1875). Exh. cat., Bunkamura Museum of Art. [Tokyo], 1991, pp. 176, 228, no. 9, ill.
Gary Tinterow. "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 2002–2003." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 61 (Fall 2003), pp. 5, 33, ill. (color), calls it "a striking composition from Millet's early maturity . . . a faggot gatherer clutching on one hand the day's harvest and in the other, her child"; notes the social significance of the image shortly before the revolution and credits both Daumier and Delacroix as influences; mentions that this is the first treatment of the image and remarks that it was reworked in a canvas of the same size (Denver Art Museum) and that a sketch for the painting was at auction in 2001.
This is the earliest treatment of the composition, of which a reworked version, called "Mother and Child," is in the Denver Art Museum (50.8 x 40.5 cm).
A smaller version of the composition from a private collection, also oil on canvas, signed F. Millet, and measuring 32 x 24.5 cm, was offered at auction by van Ham, Cologne, on November 24, 2001, no. 1780, at DM 10,000 ($45,000), but was bought in.
Several drawings for parts of the painting exist: a study of the woman's head and upper body on a sheet of figure studies in crayon noir (Kupferstichkabinett, Oeffentlichen Kunstsammlung, Basel, no. 1961.15, 21.2 x 29 cm), studies of the head and shoulders of the boy and of a hand in crayon noir heightened with white (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, no. 46.595 verso), a compositional drawing with both figures, known only from a photograph, and lost since 1899 (Cherbourg Municipal Library), and a drawing of both full figures in crayon noir (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, no. FMK 13782).
The model for the woman appears to be Catherine Lemaire, Millet's second wife, between the birth of their first and second child (i.e., July 1846–July 1847). Two related paintings, identical in size and made at the same time of the same model are: "The Return from the Fields" (Cleveland Museum of Art) and "The Return of the Flock" (Musée du Louvre, Paris).