The Sower is Millet's most famous theme and one he repeated several times between 1850 and 1870. For Millet, the subject expressed profound personal and religious beliefs. However, his first version (now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) aroused a storm of controversy when it appeared in the 1850 Paris Salon. Viewers were shocked by Millet's heroic treatment of a lowly peasant at a time when the situation of the French rural poor was degrading, and socialism threatened bourgeois society. The latter version of this painting is now in the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; and lithographic version is in the MET, NY.
Millet was the artist that van Gogh most revered. Although he never saw Millet’s famous Sower - already in a Boston collection before he was born - van Gogh admired Millet’s other treatments of the theme, and sought to emulate them.