Sometimes, in places where the land is sterile, you see figures hoeing and digging. From time to time one raises himself and straightens his back, ...wiping his forehead with the back of his hand. 'Thou shalt eat thy bread in the sweat of thy brow.' Is this the gay, jovial work some people would have us believe in? But nevertheless, to me it is true humanity and great poetry.
Thus wrote Jean-François Millet about his favorite subject, agricultural laborers. Despite his philosophical intentions, these subjects earned him accusations of Socialist leanings. When he exhibited Man with a Hoe at the Salon of 1862, it quickly became one of the most controversial pictures of mid-1800s France. He probably made this drawing as a preparatory study for that painting, now also in the Getty Museum.
In this drawing, Millet concentrated on the man, showing his face as less brutish, less exhausted, and more defined than in the finished painting. He used subtle additions of white chalk to render the clouds in the sky and the sun's highlights on the farmer's shirt. Drawn on buff paper, the entire scene has a soft, hazy quality achieved with a technique known as stumping.