(St. Louis (Missouri) 1875 - St. Augustine (Florida) 1943)
Measures: 60 x 75 cm
Technique: oil on canvas
Signed lower right: “Miller”
Provenance: Florence, private collection (since 1950s)
Exhibitions: Paris, The 27th Exposition de la Société Internationale de Peinture et Sculpture at the Galerie Georges Petit, December 7-31, 1909; Buenos Aires, Expositions d’Art, Richard Miller 1910, n. 15 (illustrated).
The painting is by the American artist Richard Edward Miller (1875-1943), and I would date it to 1909. It was almost certainly painted in Giverny, France, where Miller and his family summered, along with other American artists, from around 1908 to 1911. Painting outdoors in Giverny initiated a noticeable change in Miller’s palette, which brightened considerably – as is evident in this painting. Titled Baigneuse when Miller first exhibited it in Paris at the 27th Exposition de la Société Internationale de Peinture et Sculpture at the Galerie Georges Petit, December 7-31, 1909, the painting represents one of Miller’s first outdoor nudes publicly exhibited.
Miller had, of course, drawn and painted nudes since his art school days in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1894, when he was nineteen, he was commended for Best Work in Life Class at the St. Louis School of Fine Arts (now part of Washington University). He would continue to paint nudes for the rest of his career. Sketches of the female nude in a variety of poses found in his small 1907 Paris sketchbook are very confidently and spontaneously drawn. (See my book, A Bright Oasis: The Paintings of Richard E. Miller, The Jordan-Volpe Gallery, NYC, 1997, p. 44.) Most of the handful of nudes that he painted ca. 1908-09 present the softly-lit, seated figure in dark interiors. An exception is Il Bagno, ca. 1908 (Coll. Museo d’Arte Moderna, Venice), in which a bright table lamp lights the corner of the room in which the nude is seated. With his sojourns in Giverny Miller began to focus on plein air painting, setting his figures, nude or clothed, outdoors. Baigneuse is one of the earliest examples of this. The pearlescent texture of the figure, softly burnished with sun-dappled hues, became characteristic of Miller’s female figures from then on.
After being shown in Paris in 1909, Baigneuse was exhibited again in 1910 in South America, in a traveling exhibition – Expositions d’Art, Richard Miller – organized by Italian art dealer and collector Ferruccio Stefani (No. 15, illustrated in the catalogue). The exhibition was seen in Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Valparaiso, and Rio de Janeiro.
By the time Miller painted Baigneuse he was a rising star on the international art scene. Based in Paris from 1899 to 1914, he had won a 3rd medal for Portrait (At Her Devotions) at the Paris Salon (Société des Artistes Français) in 1900; 2nd medal in 1904 (conferring hors concours status), when the French government purchased one of his entries: Les Vieilles Demoiselles; and being made Knight of the French Legion of Honor in 1908. That same year the Municipal Council of Paris purchased his painting The Toysellers, and the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp acquired The Old Woman. Since 1905 Miller had exhibited in three Venice Biennales. The King of Italy purchased his L’Elefante bianco from the 1909 Biennale. Miller’s career continued to be successful in the remaining three-plus decades of his life – a respected painter of portraits, nudes, harborscapes, and his best-known genre, attractive women at their dressing tables – acquiring many other awards and distinctions.
Marie Louise Kane