Calm, serenity and harmony triumph in this painting. Wearing a woollen cape and a red hood, the young shepherdess (perhaps the painter's own daughter) is standing in front of her flock. She is knitting, looking down at her work. In a monotonous landscape stretching, unbroken, to the horizon, she is alone with her animals. The flock forms a patch of undulating light, reflecting the rays of the setting sun. The scene is an admirable mixture of accuracy and melancholy. Millet observed the minutest details, like the small flowers in the foreground. He makes use of the perfect harmony of blues, reds and golds.
Since 1862, Millet had been thinking about a picture of a shepherdess guarding her sheep. He didn't tell anyone about it, but Alfred Sensier recounts that the theme "had taken hold of him".
On completion, the work was presented at the 1864 Salon where it was warmly received. "An exquisite painting" for some, "a masterpiece" for others, this most peaceful of scenes captivated all those who preferred images of idyllic country scenes to those of peasant squalor. Bergère avec son troupeau was even awarded a medal, and the State, which until then had shown little interest, was eager to acquire it. However, the work had already been promised to the collector Paul Tesse. Like a number of other paintings by Millet, this one finally entered the national collections in 1909, thanks to a bequest by Alfred Chauchard, the director of the Grands Magasins du Louvre.