Millet had almost finished a painting of the same subject in 1856 (Cincinnati Art Museum), when the young American artist Edward Wheelwright admired it in his studio and asked to buy it. As that work was promised to a patron, Millet agreed to make a replica. Wheelwright recalled that Millet took the second version to the same state of completion as the original, and then "worked on the two pictures alternatively," advancing on one, then turning to the other, and "in this way making both . . . better than either would have been without the rivalry." Wheelwright selected the one now in Cincinnati.
[Knoedler, New York, until 1879; sold in October to Raynor]; James A. Raynor, New York (1879–d. 1885); his daughter, Mrs. William (Annie Raynor) Storrs Wells, New York (until d. 1935; posthumous sale, American Art Association, New York, November 12, 1936, no. 42, for $3,700 to Dillon); Clarence Dillon, New York (1936–d. 1979); his son, Douglas Dillon, New York (1979–83; sale, Sotheby's, New York, October 26, 1983, no. 37, bought in)
Albany. New York State Museum. "French Painters of Nature; The Barbizon School: Landscapes from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," May 22–August 22, 2004, no catalogue.
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. "The Masterpieces of French Painting from The Metropolitan Museum of Art: 1800–1920," February 4–May 6, 2007, no. 20.
Berlin. Neue Nationalgalerie. "Französische Meisterwerke des 19. Jahrhunderts aus dem Metropolitan Museum of Art," June 1–October 7, 2007, unnumbered cat.
Edward Wheelwright. "Personal Recollections of Jean François Millet." Atlantic Monthly 38 (September 1876), pp. 273–74, recounts seeing a version of this picture (now Cincinnati Art Museum) in progress in Millet's studio, and inquiring if he could buy it; relates that since that picture was already promised to someone else, Millet began a replica which within a few days reached the same state of completion as the first; describes how the artist "now worked upon the two pictures alternately, carrying first one and then the other a little in advance of its competitor, and in this way making both, as he himself thought, better than either would have been without this rivalry, as it were, between them"; notes that Millet finished the pictures in their frames and signed both; comments that he could not tell the finished versions apart, but later learned that the one he chose was the first one.
Julia Cartwright. Jean François Millet: His Life and Letters. 2nd ed. New York, 1902, pp. 166–67, repeats the story of the creation of the two separate versions, but mistakenly states that it was the replica that Wheelwright acquired.
Étienne Moreau-Nélaton. Millet raconté par lui-même. Paris, 1921, vol. 2, p. 30, publishes a March 5, 1856 letter from Millet to Rousseau stating that he is working on a picture of a shepherdess (the Cincinnati version) for a friend of the artist Charles Tillot; repeats Wheelwright's story, saying that it was considered impossible to tell the two versions apart.
Robert Herbert. Jean-François Millet. Exh. cat., Hayward Gallery. [London], 1976, p. 108, under no. 57 [French ed., Paris, 1975, p. 123, under no. 82], refers to this picture as lost since the Wells sale of 1936; lists two preparatory drawings for the composition.
Robert L. Herbert. Letter to Gary Tinterow. February 23, 1984, believes that the removed signature was "perfectly genuine" [see Notes].
Paintings and Works of Art from the Collections of the Late Lord Clark of Saltwood, O.M., C.H., K.C.B. Sotheby's, London. June 27, 1984, unpaginated, under no. 24, erroneously states that this picture was painted for Charles Tillot.
R. Stanley Johnson. 19th Century French Prints, Drawings, & Bronzes. Exh. cat., R. S. Johnson International. Chicago, 1985, p. 128, under no. 95.
John House. Monet: Nature into Art. New Haven, 1986, p. 181.
Alexandra R. Murphy. Letter to Gretchen Wold. March 15, 1991, believes that the removed signature was genuine, adding that Millet's finished works were always signed, but that his signatures "are remarkably vulnerable to even careful cleaning".
19th Century European Art and Fine 19th Century European Art. Christie's, New York. October 30, 2002, p. 40, calls it "Shepherdess Knitting"; mentions the MMA and Cincinnati pictures in relation to Millet's two versions of "Norman Milkmaid" (lot no. 22 and Barber Institute of Art, Birmingham, England), which she suggests may also have been painted simultaneously.
Susan Alyson Stein inThe Masterpieces of French Painting from The Metropolitan Museum of Art: 1800–1920. Exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. New York, 2007, pp. 40, 235, no. 20, ill. (color and black and white).
Simon Kelly inThe Repeating Image: Multiples in French Painting from David to Matisse. Ed. Eik Kahng. Exh. cat., Walters Art Museum. Baltimore, 2007, p. 80 n. 105.
Millet painted this picture simultaneously with another almost identical version of the subject, on canvas, now in the Cincinnati Art Museum (see Wheelwright 1876). There are two preparatory drawings for the composition, one owned by R. S. Johnson International, Chicago, in 1985 and the other in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh.
This picture once bore a signature in the lower right corner, recorded in the American Art Association sale catalogue of 1936 (see photograph in archive file) and removed at some point after 1936. Both Herbert (1984) and Murphy (1991) believe the signature was genuine.