Frank D. Millet: His life and work

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Randy Bryan Bigham

Member
David wrote: "He's really a pretty minor figure."

Actually David that is not so. He was absolutely a very major figure in the arts. He was not as famous as a painter as he was as an administrator and organizer but he was exceptionally well-known and highly respected, both as a personality and as an artist. His influence can be seen in many aspects of the art world of his day, even beyond his own personal output. Millet is a figure whose life and work are waiting to be rediscovered by a sensitive biographer.

As in the case of Archie b*** and others whose lives ended on Titanic, Millet has become inextricably bound to the story of the disaster while his noteworthy career has languished - the result being that people today assume he was of only moderate importance. The dearth of readily available material on Millet shows only that there is much excavation required to reclaim this extraordinary man.

I would like to recommend to anyone who is interested in Millet that they read Jon Hollis' thorough and illuminating account of the artist's life. It appeared in the June 1991 issue of Voyage. It is excellent.

There is talk of a full-fledge biography of Millet which, if published, will be something of an eye-opener.

Randy

PS) When I started researching Lucile, I couldn't find a thing. I have been able to show since, however, that she was not only famous and influential but probably one of the most famous and influential women of her day. The proof is in the digging!
 
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Brian R Peterson

Guest
Hi Inger,

I would really like to hear someone knowledgeable in these areas, I also have longer more more detailed stories of the events of the tunnels but they are irrelevant here, though I would love to share via email.

Best Regards,

Brian
 
Shelley Dziedzic

Shelley Dziedzic

Member
Actually Millet, sad to say is vastly underrated, unknown today, and under- appreciated by nearly everyone. He was coming back early on Titanic with b*** because he had to attend a meeting in Washington involving the placement of French's Lincoln Memorial. He was consulted on many important decisions of national stature and served on numerous commissions and boards. There were few artists of the time better-connected than Millet, or more talented in the genre of easel paintings, -murals were his forte, and the Custom House harbor mural in Baltimore is considered a masterpiece of muralists painters by experts. TIS' Voyage is running a six-part series on Millet. His Broadway studio in the Cotswolds was a gathering place for the best of his contemporaries. I will have his website up soon, and I do hope the ultimate biography of Millet, which has been written, and is a brilliant piece of research by Mr. Engstrom, receives and deserves a publisher. The small thumbnail prints online do him no credit. Here is one very large painting in the East Bridgewater Library of Sailing on the Bay of Naples, exhibited in 1874. His compositions are masterful, detailed, and charming in that little dramas unfold in all corners of his works, in the interactions of his subjects. I hope to present here, very soon, a persuasive and comprehensive critique of his art, research of his amazing career and life, and hope to put to rest the misconception that the only thing he did of interest was to drown on Titanic. I am ashamed to admit my own dense stupidity in not knowing his talent and creative genius in many areas of visual arts for so long, and am grateful to have been recently so enlightened and enriched.
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Michael H. Standart

Michael H. Standart

Member
Looks to me like the man had a taste for the everyday sort of subjects. Not the "Beautiful People" but everyday Joes and Janes going about their business if the above two are any indication. I'm wondering if there's a website out there or a book with some of his work featured there.
 
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Randy Bryan Bigham

Member
As I said, apart from the impact his own work had on American art, Millet's influence (as a friend and an artist) is seen in the works of others.

As a leader of England's Broadway art colony, which prospered in the late 19th century, Millet's eye for beauty in nature can be seen best in a masterpiece of his contemporary and companion, John Singer Sargent. This painting, "Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose" was executed in the lush gardens of Millet's beautiful homes, Farnham and Russell, in the years 1885-86.

Here is a detail of this great work, showing two little girls lighting paper lanterns at dusk among Millet's flowers.

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Here are some links that may interest people:

This is a good bio page on Millet, including information supplied by a descendent:

http://64.233.161.104/search?q=cache:z45-EXOnoGMJ...

This is a portrait by Sargent of Millet's lovely wife:

http://64.233.161.104/search?q=cache:cwzQMyQtvdYJ...

This page concerns a controversy over Millet's disputed portraits of his friend Mark Twain:

http://64.233.161.104/search?q=cache:AZKXzziXrw8J...

And this page tells and shows much about the old Broadway art colony that Millet helped create:

http://216.239.51.104/search?q=cache:h-zWNWgifM8J...
 
Inger Sheil

Inger Sheil

Member
Very interesting material on Millet posted, and it prompted me to go and re-read some of the on-line material regarding his work. He certainly lived a full and fascinating life, and I hope that the full-scale biography you mentioned is published, Shelley. Even outside his work with a brush he was remarkable.

Possibly my views might change if I saw more of his work in the original, but re-visiting the on-line material reinforced the opinions I've already stated. I have no doubt that he was influential in his day, and I wouldn't dream of denigrating his competence, but in the wider context of art history I'd still contend that he is a minor figure. Of course, it's all a matter of perspective - I'm looking at art history in a broad sense, whereas a study of American decorative artists of his era might reveal him to be a figure of great importance. I wouldn't say he ranks with, say, Waterhouse and other contemporaries, but that is not to say he wasn't accomplished. One of my favorite artists is John Atkinson Grimshaw, although I'd regard him as a fairly minor figure as well (even though his work currently has a certain popular appeal and reproductions are readily available).

It's interesting to relate Millet's work to some of the other artists of his era - compare his Reading the Story of Oenone to some of John Strudwick's work, for example, or similar classically themed early works by Waterhouse, or even George Watts. It's attractive art, but not exceptional or particularly original.

I'd be interested to know if he, like the very talented Millais, turned to the sort of choco-box decorative art that marked his later years for commercial success. The pretty, technically accomplished pieces, such as the above Wandering Thoughts, are rather reminiscent of works like Hearts are Trumps. Both Millais and Millet could paint very good portraits, both in terms of technical skill and a sense of the character of the subject. Millet's Mark Twain portrait comes to mind. However, from what I've seen of his work, Millet (like Millais) could succumb to trite and obvious pieces, often sentimental and populist. They fetched a ready price, so I would't blame them. But art history is full of artists who possess similar skills and talents - Henry Wallis and Daniel Maclise come to mind. Other figures, although influential and innovative in their day, hold only minor status in art history - Frank Brangwyn, for example. A roll call of RA members at that time would reveal many names that were held in high regard then and are now obscure to all but dedicated art historians of the era.

I think it's possible to underestimate Millet's ability and his accomplishments and, as Shelley points out, dismissively reduce his remarkable life to the fact he died on the Titanic. I also think it's possible to overestimate his importance in the wider context of art history.

Tastes change, of course. Once upon a time the pre-Raphaelites (whose influence is readily apparent in Millet's work) were considered over-blown Victoriana, their high-earnestness was laughed at and their subject matter relentlessly parodied. Now they have returned to mass popularity, and the work of writers such as Marsh and Surtees establishes their academic respectability while the masses pick up Rossetti fridge magnets at exhibitions (and yes, I have one). Opinion on art is, as ever, highly subjective. A reappraisal of Millet and a sensitive biography might help re-establish him as a figure in histories of American narrative and portrait art of the turn of last century, but I don't know if he will ever be elevated in popular and academic opinion beyond the ranks of the minor artists.
 
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Randy Bryan Bigham

Member
"...Other figures, although influential and innovative in their day, hold only minor status in art history - Frank Brangwyn, for example. A roll call of RA members at that time would reveal many names that were held in high regard then and are now obscure to all but dedicated art historians of the era..."

Are you suggesting that because certain artists are not laboriously written about by historians that their work is of negligible influence? We know from our line of study that what is generally accepted as historical fact "ain't necessarily so." Historians in any genre hit upon representative figures. That certain other names are not focused on in the historical record is a reflection on the scholar and the breadth of his research and not on the importance of the subject.

"...I also think it's possible to overestimate his importance in the wider context of art history..."

What do you mean by "wider context of art history?" Are you meaning the conventional and exclusionary studies of art from a conventional European perspective? If so, may I say that my belief is that there are no more frontiers in art. Art is art, whatever its nationality, whatever its ethnicity, whatever its medium of expression.

That Millet's work did not influence Monet or another contemporary European painter does not negate his impact elsewhere on the art world of his day, which was after all a larger venue than that being explored in France or elsewhere. The definition of high art does not, in my opinion, need a European name on it to justify it as historically valid or integral.

"...A reappraisal of Millet and a sensitive biography might help re-establish him as a figure in histories of American narrative and portrait art of the turn of last century, but I don't know if he will ever be elevated in popular and academic opinion beyond the ranks of the minor artists..."

You could be right but if so, such treatment might likely be due to the prejudice of the historian who is not motivated to employ a thorough or universal analysis. Even so, if current feedback from modern art critics and scholars is any indication, Millet's special place in art history (in the inclusive sense), both as a painter and academician, will be affirmed.
 
Inger Sheil

Inger Sheil

Member
quote:

Are you suggesting that because certain artists are not laboriously written about by historians that their work is of negligible influence?
No, I'm not. But how are you gauging influence in Millet's case? And what about the quality of the work itself? I'm willing to listen to reassessments, but I've yet to be convinced that he is one of the neglected figures in the pantheon of late 19th Century/early 20th Century artists.
quote:

What do you mean by "wider context of art history?" Are you meaning the conventional and exclusionary studies of art from a conventional European perspective?
No, I do not mean that - quite the opposite in fact. I have used examples of European artists because I happen to be familiar with them and, as there is more material available to the googlers, thought they might be more illustrative of my point. Much of my own art study, however, has centered on Australian artists, both Anglo-Australian and Indigenous Australian. The residence next to mine was once owned by an art dealer, restorer and critic, was a thriving hub for Australian artists. I can walk into many galleries today and see recognisable features from the local landscape. It was, if not quite a colony, then at least a retreat frequented by Australian painters and sculpters who had a tremendous impact on the Australian art scene, but who remain comparatively obscure elsewhere. Norman Lindsay would be one of the better known ones and could even be said to have had an international influence extending beyond his historical and artistic milieu, and perhaps you might even be familiar with the work of Rupert Bunny or Arthur Streeton (although these figures hold a towering place in Australian art and culture, the Australian Plein-air School remains comparatively obscure on the international stage). However, many of them - although talented, accomplished and influential in both an academic and artistic sense in their day - could hardly be said to be major figures in the international art world.
quote:

That certain other names are not focused on in the historical record is a reflection on the scholar and the breadth of his research and not on the importance of the subject.
Not necessarily. The quality of the work also comes into account, and I remain to be convinced, from the examples of his work that have been presented, that Millet's work is exceptional enough to characterise him as anything other than a minor figure as an artist. Of course, as I also said, context has a bearing here - if you narrow the focus to a limited era and school, Millet's significance increases. I also noted that I regard him as having strengths in portraiture. However, I still regard many of the extant examples of his work as rather trite and derivative.
quote:

You could be right but if so, such treatment might likely be due to the prejudice of the historian who is not motivated to employ a thorough or universal analysis.
Why might it be 'likely' to be 'due to the prejudice of the historian'? I think the opposite could just as likely to hold true - that a 'thorough or universal analysis' would be more likely to identify his work as typical of the era. Of course, every critic and historian has their own baggage, and the proponents of Millet have their own prejudices and preconceptions.

quote:

Even so, if current feedback from modern art critics and scholars is any indication, Millet's special place in art history (in the inclusive sense), both as a painter and academician, will be affirmed.
What 'special place' would that be? And who is affirming it? I am quite willing to accept that he had much to contribute to the academic world of his time - of his artistic output (at least of his narrative or illustrative works) I'm not so sure at all. But universal art history is full of such individuals, who devote much time, energy and talent to promoting artistic endeavours and institutions, but who are still minor figures when we look at art movements on a grander scale.

Again - I am not attempting to denigrate Millet's work or his accomplishments. Nor do I regard designating him as a minor figure in art history as an insult - many of my favourites artists are 'minor' figures (e.g. Grimshaw). Nor do I think him unworthy of further study or of comprehensive biographical treatment. But while he is an interesting figure and he had indubitable skill wielding a brush, I don't think the minor place he has been accorded thus far in history is too far off the mark.​
 
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181218

Guest
Well I like what I have seen of his work so far.

*Millet's work did not influence Monet or another contemporary European painter does not negate his impact elsewhere on the art world of his day*

ok he did not influence these people but this made me wonder if he was famous enough that big artists would have been aware of him ? For example Monet ?

He made me think of a guy called John Ruskin whom was a writer also and did paintings. I would think Ruskin is more well know than than Millet, but it seems a lot of educated people so to speak , in those days spread themselves over quite a range of things and were talented in each - writers, painters, critic’s, poets ! Ruskin is another example of this. Although Ruskin is more well know I like Millets work a lot more.

I'm did not mean anything by the pot joke - so if anyone has taken in the wrong way I'm sorry. Best thing to do if I annoy anyone is call me Piles ! Hate that nick name lol.

.
 
R

Randy Bryan Bigham

Member
"...But how are you gauging influence in Millet's case? ..."

I gauge it more by his reputation as an art critic, organizer and manager than as a working artist but I also gauge his influence by reviews of his own work as a painter which seem to suggest that if he devoted more time to that craft, instead of to the wider political and financial arena of the art world (nationally as well as internationally), he might have achieved greater prominence in the medium.

My contention that he was greater and more influential in his day than what the record now reflects is based on my understanding of how wide ranging and prolific his involvement in art (beyond his own work) was. It's not my place to reveal specific aspects of his career, as I am not the one who has not done the research, but he was most definitely at the center of the American arts scene, being perhaps the most visible proponent of American art from a finance and management perspective that there was at the time. His social, journalistic and governmental ties, in America and abroad, were perhaps unequaled by any other contemporary artist. The American art world had no stauncher advocate and no more capable diplomat. Again the extent of his inspiration in this realm is for his biographer to state.

"...And what about the quality of the work itself?..."

The quality of the work is of course paramount. But it doesn't just take being a connoisseur to judge good art (using prime extant examples, of course). One must also take into consideration the contemporary opinion of an artist's quality of output and be aware of historical explanations as to why a particular work resonated with the public at a given time. To make a modern assumption about the mood or "soul" of a piece that is dependent on an understanding of an element that was fraught with public meaning when the piece was made, is essentially to miss the successful expression or "quality" of that work.

"...I'm willing to listen to reassessments, but I've yet to be convinced that he is one of the neglected figures in the pantheon of late 19th Century/early 20th Century artists..."

You have also not read the biography that has been completed nor studied actual examples of his work nor read the opinions of contemporaries, both published and unpublished, that bear out the extraordinary and, in many ways, unprecedented, versatility of this man who blended so brilliantly the roles of diplomat, man of letters and artist. As such, he occupied a truly unique place in the artistic firmament of his time, one that is insufficiently appreciated at present. I think that when you read what he did, beyond what you can see from his brush, you will recognize that he has indeed been overlooked since his death and deserves a reappraisal that may in fact place him among the all-time greats.

"...However, many of them - although talented, accomplished and influential in both an academic and artistic sense in their day - could hardly be said to be major figures in the international art world..."

But in Frank Millet's case, he was a major figure in the international art world. The research that I have seen bears this out loud and clear.

"...The quality of the work also comes into account, and I remain to be convinced, from the examples of his work that have been presented, that Millet's work is exceptional enough to characterise him as anything other than a minor figure as an artist..."

I think you may be looking at Millet too much as a painter. He transcends that description, as I've tried to explain above. Although I believe he was a superb painter, it's not as a painter alone that I'm saying he was a hugely influential artist. I am saying that, as a critic, a connoisseur, a financier, an ambassador, a promoter, a manager but also as a painter, Millet was undeniably one of the most outstanding figures in the international art community of the late Victorian and Edwardian periods.

"...However, I still regard many of the extant examples of his work as rather trite and derivative..."

I think that if you saw more of his paintings, studied their background and inspiration and knew how they were received in their day, then you would be better able to judge his style and effort.

"...Of course, every critic and historian has their own baggage, and the proponents of Millet have their own prejudices and preconceptions..."

For myself I have no prejudices or preconceptions about Millet that make me a proponent. I am not a fan of American art in general - my main study has been of French and English 18th century portraiture and of late 19th century Impressionism. I came to the subject of Millet, knowing absolutely nothing about him except that he was a noted victim of the Titanic disaster. I have had my eyes opened to his work and was simply astounded. I have nothing to gain from promoting his forthcoming biography. My own research is in the realm of women's history and biography.

"...What 'special place' would that be? ..."

I outlined this above.

"...And who is affirming it?..."

I am not at liberty to discuss what critics may have said in praise or to identify who those critics are. I was probably wrong to have alluded to it. My apologies.

"...But while he is an interesting figure and he had indubitable skill wielding a brush, I don't think the minor place he has been accorded thus far in history is too far off the mark..."

Until you know the full story of the man and his life's importance within the context of his times, you really are not being fair to him by prejudging him as occupying but a "minor place" in history.
 
Jon Hollis

Jon Hollis

RIP
There is a book that was available through THS titled "Soldier Of Fortune" written by a Millett relative.Not a bad little book. Re all of the above posts see no mention of him as a War Correspondent which he was in addition to being an artists. Also he was a drummer boy in the Civil war assigned to his fathers company who was a doctor. In East Bridgewater Mass not only is Franks grave site there complete with an imported headstone from the cotswolds in England (honey colored stone)but his old art studio which he and his father built from scrap found here and there but also the family home which was a hospital and sanatorium. It still stands and is inhabited to this day as is his little studio. Perhaps if you write to Bob Disogra at Titanic International back issues of my story might be available. Hopefully the new series will encompass some of my work from that long article. Cheers Jon
 
Fiona Nitschke

Fiona Nitschke

Member
Jon, fear not. As per Bob Godfrey's post dated 1 June:
quote:

Frank Millet excelled in two fields, first as a journalist and war correspondent, later as an artist.
A gentle reminder to all regarding the size of images in this thread and the guidelines for posting images to this board, hrm.​
 
Shelley Dziedzic

Shelley Dziedzic

Member
A particularly striking photograph is this of Frank in his Russo-Turkish correspondent uniform, the medals surrounding him are two combat medals given him by the Czar, the Roumanian Iron Cross, Russian war medal, Legion of Honour, and Grand Army of the Republic. Whilst crossing the Balkans in 1878, under brutal weather conditions, Frank had to amputate the arm of a comrade-he had seen his surgeon father do the procedure so many times, he never had a moment's hesitation.
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