Jean-Francois Millet’s 1851 painting, Going to Work (Vient au travail), is a bold depiction of human resilience in the face of hard work. The painting depicts a man in humble clothing and carrying a stick, walking away from a small house, presumably leaving for his day’s labor. Millet conveyed both the harshness and dignity of rural life with great detail, capturing moments such as the man wiping his sweaty brow.
Not only does Going to Work illustrate human resilience, it also reflects Millet’s beliefs about labor and how people should be treated. This insight was not lost on other artists throughout history and influenced paintings such as Vincent van Gogh’s The Potato Eaters (1885) and Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907).
Millet continued to explore themes of rural life in his subsequent painting, The Angelus (1857-59). This painting, which is now one of Millet’s most famous works, expands upon his realism by depicting two figures bent in prayer against a background with light breaking through the clouds. His ability to capture fleeting changes in light complements the grandness of labor in Going to Work and pays tribute to those laboring on country farms.