Jean-François Millet (1814 - 1875), 1848-1849
oil on canvas,
147 cm x 236.5 cm
The Mesdag Collection, The Hague
In 1848 the Paris artist Millet was commissioned by the French government to paint the story of Hagar and Ishmael. The Bible recounts how the maidservant Hagar bore a child, Ishmael, to Abraham, because his wife Sarah was barren. When Sarah did later give birth to a son, Abraham sent Hagar and her child into the wilderness.
Millet painted the moment when Hagar turns away from her son, unable to bear the pain of watching him die of thirst. Millet concentrated all attention on the figures, thereby conveying the story’s essence, namely human suffering.
Millet would never finish the painting, perhaps because of his departure for rural Barbizon. In June 1849 he moved there permanently to paint landscapes and scenes of peasant life.