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 Alfred Jacob Miller  (1810 - 1874)

About: Alfred Jacob Miller
 

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Lived/Active: Maryland      Known for: trapper-Indian genre, portrait, mountain landscapes

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Alfred Jacob Miller became the first American artist of consequence to paint the Rocky Mountains and was the only artist to chronicle figures of the legendary fur trade during its height.  Although he portrayed Indian subjects, he was not especially interesting in realistic depictions but romanticized his subjects, comparing the Indians of the West to Greek sculpture figures.

He was encouraged to draw by his parents, and had local training in Baltimore and studied portraiture in Philadelphia from 1831 to 1832 with Thomas Sully.  He studied in France from 1833 to 1834 and Italy at the English Life School in Rome.  Returning to Baltimore, he opened a studio, but it was not successful.

In 1836, he established a studio in New Orleans where he met Captain William Drummond Stewart, a Scottish aristocrat and British Army officer, who engaged Miller to accompany him on a Rocky Mountain trip in 1837.  The idea was for Miller to make sketches that he could later convert to oil paintings for Stewart's castle in Scotland.

The resulting sketches, about 200, in various media, and notebook studies of mountain men and Indians, mostly from Southwestern Wyoming, gave psychological insight into the subjects.  These depictions captured the end of the heydey of the mountain men and also showed many scenes from Indian life.  However, the works were not intended for public display but for the personal enjoyment of Stewart.

The sketches were shipped to Stewart's ancestral home, Murthly Castle in Scotland. Miller, fulfilling his commitment to Stewart, lived at the Castle from 1840 to 1842, and painted scenes in oil from their journey.  This arrangement was made by Stewart after the death of his older brother from whom he inherited the castle.

Miller then settled in Baltimore, making a good living from oil paintings from numerous copies of his Rocky Mountain sketches and from portraiture.  With many of his paintings, he supplied narrative descriptions, but, unlike many Easterners who traveled West before white settlement, he never published written descriptions of his western adventures.

Sources:
Peggy and Harold Samuels, Illustrated Biographical Encyclopedia of the American West

Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art


Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, IV:
Alfred Jacob Miller became the first American artist of consequence to paint the Rocky Mountains and was the only artist to chronicle figures of the legendary fur trade during its height.

Miller was born and raised in Baltimore, and in 1833 journeyed to France and Italy to study painting.  By 1836 he was in New Orleans to establish a studio there; shortly after his arrival he met a wealthy Scottish adventurer, Captain William Drummond Stewart, who engaged the young artist to accompany him on an expedition to the Rocky Mountains.

Guided by the legendary mountain man Thomas Fitzpatrick, the party of 45 men and 20 carts departed for the Green River country in April 1837.  Miller sketched constantly during the whole trip, frequently in watercolor, often leaving at sunup with the hunters and not returning to the camp until dusk.  The caravan followed a route that would later become the Oregon Trail, passing through Fort Laramie and the South Pass, before turning northward past the Wind River chain to Horse Creek, the site of the great rendezvous.  Here, Stewart was an honored guest, and Miller was treated to a host of unforgettable experiences during his three-week stay in the mountains.  Miller viewed the mountain men and the Indians as inhabitants of a wild, romantic landscape, and his watercolor sketches transformed them into idealized, yet carefully observed figures in dreamy, evocative settings.

Sources include:
The American West: Legendary Artists of the Frontier, Dr. Rick Stewart, Hawthorne Publishing Company, 1986

Biography from Kiechel Fine Art:
Alfred Jacob Miller was born in Baltimore.  Miller studied portraiture under Thomas Sully from 1831-32 and trained in Paris at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1833.  In Rome, he studied at the English Life School.  Miller later opened a portrait studio in Baltimore, but his lack of success caused him to move to New Orleans in 1837.

In that same year, he accompanied the wealthy Scotsman, Sir William Drummond Stewart on an expedition through the trans-Mississippi West to record scenes of the journey.  He was probably the first artist to depict the Rocky Mountains.  Miller returned to St. Louis with about 166 sketches of the Native Americans, which were later developed into oil paintings.

From 1840 to 1842, he lived in Stewart's Murthly Castle in Scotland, painting his favorite episodes from the trip.  He also completed a portfolio of 83 drawings and watercolors. Miller spent the remainder of his life painting in Baltimore.  Most of his sketches and watercolors were entirely forgotten for nearly a century until they were rediscovered in a storeroom of the Peale Museum, Baltimore.



Biography from The Caldwell Gallery - I:
Alfred Jacob Miller was one of the most significant documentars of the Old West in early American history.  He began his artistic training with Thomas Sully in Philadelphia and later attended L'Ecole des Beaux Arts in 1833.  He painted dramatic and romantic scenes of Native Americans and daring mountain men.

Miller was invited to accompany Captain William D. Steward as an expedition artist in the Rocky Mountains.  Steward intended for Miller's work to be hung at his castle in Scotland to remind him of the trip.  They left from Missouri in May and traveled for the next 6 months.  Between the spring and fall of 1837, Miller made over 200 on-the-spot sketches and watercolors.

When Miller returned from this trip to New Orleans, he transferred most of his drawings into oil paintings.  American audiences were reportedly amazed at the grand views of the Wyoming Wind River Mountain among other scenes that Miller produced.

He spent the next 30 years reinterpreting sketches from his trips as well as working on portraits.  Miller died in 1874.

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