Richard Emil Miller was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1875. The son of an engineer from Pennsylvania, he was encouraged from an early age to study and practice drawing, given his precocious artistic aptitude.
In 1892, he moved from St. Louis to study at the Washington University School of Fine Arts, where he was a pupil of the impressionist painter Edmund H. Wuerpel, a follower and heir to the elegant language of James Abbott McNeill Whistler, but also a student of the lyrical realism of the Barbizon School.
The young man’s academic studies focused above all on French Impressionist painting: his language immediately stood out for its refined luministic and chromatic rendering, which helped to give the figures and environments a delicate yet lively atmosphere. The canvases are often centred on female characters wrapped in elegant multicoloured dresses and placed in pleasant gardens full of vegetation.
The move to France and the Giverny Colony
Towards the second half of the 19th century, American painters were in the habit of taking a training trip to Paris to catch up on the variations of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist language.
It was in this context that a colony of American artists was born between Paris and Giverny, which included Richard Emil Miller. After finishing his studies in Washington, he moved to Paris to attend the Academie Julien, but his real inspiration came from the Parisian streets, the elegant cafés and sunny gardens. It was during this period that he gave his painting the opportunity to develop a sensibility akin to post-impressionism, but delineated by a highly personal language.
Although his paintings still depict the pleasant, languid everyday life of women absorbed in their thoughts and activities, the vivid colours and rhythmic tonal combinations make his works small treatises on American Impressionism, as can be seen in the soft, gentle Morning Sun of 1914 and Reverie of 1915.
The painter was a regular participant in the Paris Salons, but during the summer he frequently travelled to the small coastal towns of Brittany, where he executed several landscape paintings and fleeting impressions that would also return in future memories, when he executed Brittany in America in 1928. Another favourite and crucial place is Normandy, specifically to Giverny, the town that from 1890 had chosen Claude Monet (1840-1926) to establish his bucolic retreat in which to build the beloved Japanese garden that would cheer his last years.
American artists would gather at Giverny to preserve the memory of Monet’s works, but also to recreate the atmosphere of idyllic poetry. Around the painter Frederick Carl Frieseke (1874-1939), originally from Michigan, a veritable colony had gathered, including Miller. On Frieseke’s advice, the painter concentrated on the tonal values of his works in order to bring out the luminosity of his charming, pensive female figures, which often blend in with the lush vegetation that surrounds them or with the patches of sunlight that filter through the plants.
The Italian exhibitions and the return to the United States
The evocative and symbolic dimension of these representations, in which colour often contributes to a feeling of two-dimensionality, certainly comes from the observation of the Nabis and the widespread Japanese prints. During his French period, Richard Emil Miller also exhibited in Italy, which he visited in the early years of the 20th century. He was present at the 1905 Venice Biennial with The Old Woman and The Mender, and at the 1907 Biennial with Mother and Daughter, Night Effect and Lady at Her Toilet.
At the 1909 Biennale he had a solo exhibition with eleven works, including Portrait of the Lascroux Children, The Chinese Dress, The Bath, Evening, Interior and White Elephant. In 1911 he sent two works to the International Exhibition in Rome, Woman with a Fan and In the Shadows. After the war, he sent The Mirror from America to the Venice Biennale.
Before the outbreak of the First World War, Richard Emil Miller returned to America and settled in Pasadena, California, where he taught painting at the Stickney Memorial School of Art. To paint, he stayed in the luminous studio of the American artist Eva Scott Fenyes (1849-1930).
In 1917, he moved to Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he continued to paint for the rest of his life, pursuing a fascinating style of small bright eyes of colour. He died in St Augustine, Florida, in 1943.