"Art is not a pleasure-trip, it is a battle, a mill that grinds," remarked the painter Jean-François Millet. Born into a peasant family of modest means, Millet celebrated the dignity of manual labor and the humanity, endurance, and piety of the field worker in his paintings. Nadar's portrait of Millet perfectly corresponds with a contemporaneous description of him as "a long, strong, deep-chested man with a full black beard, a grey eye that looks through and through you." Among his intimates, however, Millet was amiable and occasionally serene.
Millet said of photographic portraiture that "this art would never reach perfection till the process could be performed instantaneously and without the knowledge of the sitter. Only in that way, if at all, could a natural and life-like portrait be obtained." Although he sat for other photographers, Millet may have had the stern formality of Nadar's portrait in mind when he made this statement, perhaps having a milder self-image than this picture gives.