Recognized as one of the leading members of the Anglo-American art colony in Giverny, France, Richard Miller garnered widespread international acclaim for his depictions of women. A popular and highly influential teacher, Miller also played an important role in the dissemination of Impressionism in Southern California. His aesthetic, distinguished by an emphasis on pattern, line, and bold color contrasts, exemplifies the decorative direction that Impressionism took during the early twentieth century.
A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Miller studied at the St. Louis School of Fine Arts from 1893 until 1897. Following this, he worked briefly as an artist-reporter for the St. Louis Post Dispatch. In 1899 he received a scholarship to attend the Académie Julian in Paris. There, Miller concentrated on the rendering of the figure, refining his draftsmanship under the direction of the academic painters Jean Paul Laurens and Benjamin Constant.
In 1901, his studies at Julian’s completed, Miller began teaching at a rival art school, the Académie Colarossi. During this period, Miller specialized in portraits and Dutch peasant subjects as well as depictions of attractive women amidst luxurious surroundings. Stylistically, he favored a muted, tonal palette and firm draftsmanship. Miller was also inspired by the prevailing interest in Japonisme; his studio was filled with an ample collection of kimonos, parasols, fans, ceramics, and other accouterments. Around 1905, he produced a series of night scenes, focusing on cafe life and views of Parisian boulevards.
Miller won gold medals at the Paris Salons of 1901 and 1904. In 1905, he received a medal at the Liege World’s Fair and a year later, he was appointed a Knight of the French Legion of Honor. His reputation in France was further enhanced in 1907, when his Vielle Hollandaise was purchased by the French government for the Luxembourg Museum.
During the early 1900s, Miller began conducting summer painting classes in Giverny. Located about thirty miles northwest of Paris, the village had been a popular gathering place for American artists since the late 1880s. The majority of Miller’s students were from Mary Wheeler’s school in Providence, Rhode Island. He also taught occasionally in St. Jean du Doight in Brittany; however, he spent the majority of his time in Giverny.
Miller continued his affiliation with the Académie Colarossi until 1906. Although his precise chronological development has yet to be established, he appears to have turned to Impressionism during that same year. As was the case with other many of his fellow American Givernois, such as Frederick Frieseke, Guy Rose, Lawton Parker, and Louis Ritman. Miller portrayed elegant young women in quiet, sun-dappled interiors or in lush flower gardens. Contemporary critics soon identified Miller and Frieseke as the foremost members of the Giverny colony and compared their work accordingly. Commentators noted that although the two men shared the same subject matter, and often the same models and props, Miller’s work was distinguished by its monumentality, its strong sense of design, and its vivid color contrasts. In Miller’s view, “art’s mission . . . [was] not literary, the telling of a story, but decorative, the conveying of a pleasant optical sensation.” 1
In 1909, both Miller and Frieseke had rooms devoted to their work at the Venice Biennale. In December of 1910, Miller, Frieseke, Guy Rose, and Lawton Parker exhibited together at New York’s Madison Gallery and were subsequently identified in the press as the “Giverny Group.” In one review, the noted critic James Huneker described Miller’s interiors as “cool and graceful,” his women “delicate and mysterious.” 2
Miller remained in Giverny until late 1914, when the dangers imposed by the first world war forced him to return to America. He lived briefly in New York City and then in St. Louis before settling in Pasadena, California in 1916. During the next two years, Miller taught and gave criticism at the Stickney Memorial School of Art and in so doing played an important role in the dissemination of Impressionist precepts throughout Southern California. During this period, he continued to paint female figures in sun-dappled settings, often working in the formal gardens adjacent to the home and studio of Mrs. Adelbert Fenyes, one of his students at the Stickley School. In 1918, Miller moved permanently to Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he was one of the more prominent figures in the local artists’ colony. From 1919 until 1923, he painted a series of murals for the State Capitol in Jefferson City, Missouri. In his later years, Miller painted marine subjects.
Miller held memberships in the American Art Association of Paris; the International Society of Painters, Sculptors, and Gravers; the National Academy of Design, the North Shore Arts Association; the Paris Society of American Painters, and the St. Louis Artists’ Guild, among many others.
Richard Miller died in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1963. His paintings can be found in major public collections throughout the United States and abroad, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; the St. Louis Art Museum; the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the Musée d’Orsay, Paris; the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp; the Museo de Arte Moderna, Venice; the Royal Museum, Oslo; and the collection of the King of Italy.