Jean-Fran�ois Millet was the son of Normandy farmers and began studying painting in Cherbourg. In 1838, with the aid of a scholarship, he moved to Paris and became briefly, a pupil of P. Delaroche, but soon decided that he preferred to work alone. He made frequent visits to the Louvre Museum, where he was particularly influenced by Michelangelo, Poussin and Rubens. In order to earn a living he painted shop signs and numerous portraits.
In the 1840s, Millet spent most of his time in Cherbourg and after the death of his first wife in 1844 he spent a year in Le Havre where he exhibited with some success.
In 1849, he was persuaded by Charles-Emile Jacque to settle with his new family in Barbizon and discovered the green landscapes of this region where Rousseau and Diaz were already living. Unlike the other Barbizon painters he was principally inspired by the occupations rather than the scenery of rural life and the daily toil of the peasants became his preferred subject.