Frank D. Millet: His life and work


Inger Sheil

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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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"...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

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

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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.​
 
G

Guest (R17)

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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.

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"...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

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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
 
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Jon, fear not. As per Bob Godfrey's post dated 1 June:
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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.​
 
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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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This impressive decoration, First Class of the Sacred given by the Emperor of Japan to Millet, then U.S. Minister Plenipotentiary and Envoy Extraordinary to Japan. When the Great White Fleet sailed into Japan in 1908, there was a dither as to where to seat the Admiral of the Fleet as Frank was equal in diplomatic rank- the Admiral sat below him! This is a badge, rosette and sash. Frank tactfully made himself scarce afterward so as not to steal too much thunder from the Admiral.
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Inger Sheil

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quote:

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.
Quite possibly he might have been, but unfortunately we can't judge people by what might have happened had they devoted their time and efforts to one particular sphere, or if they had lived long enough to do so. Had Elizabeth Siddal lived and enjoyed good health, rather than die at an early age and suffer from poor health, she might have fulfilled the promise of her work. We'll never know. We can only assess people by what they accomplished - not what they might have accomplished.
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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.
I agree that he may have been prominent in the contemporary American arts scene, and I addressed this above. Just as Julian Ashton was a major figure in the Australian Arts scene of his age - a proponant of Australian work, founder of the Julian Ashton art school and an accomplished artist. However, while he might have loomed large in the art world of his era, and is still quite well regarded by Australian art historians, he is not a major figure in art history.

A role in the art establishment and contemporary popularity does not guarantee artistic immortality. On the other hand, artists unnappreciated in their own era can stand the test of time. One can contrast Ashton's reception by the art establishment with that of Tom Roberts. Roberts had studied at the RA, but when he returned to Australia and turned his attention to Australian subjects, his work was treated coldly by the establishment. Shearers and workingmen were, it was felt, not the subject of real art. Not to mention that coarse brushwork...! But Roberts' work has endured, and his interpretations of the Australian landscape and people have become iconographic.
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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.
If one is looking at art from a social historians POV, true. And an art historian will take into account contemporary opinion. However, the artistic landscape is littered with artists whose work, while popular in its day, has not stood the test of time, and others who - comparatively obscure in their own era - have since been recognised for their talent. I have no doubt that Millet's work was popular. So was Millais' later work...that's why he gave up his earlier, more challenging material to cater to the taste of the age. The sort of pretty historical scenes Millet does are very much of the same ilk as some of Millais' work - Millais did much to kick the trend off with paintings such as 'A Huguenot on Saint Bartholomew's Day'. It was so tremendously popular that for the rest of his career Millais was implored by the public to 'give us another Huguenot', and he and other painters came up with endless permutations ('The Proscribed Royalist', 'The Black Brunswicker' etc).

Art in the manner of Millet, Millais and others has long received short-shrift at the hands of art critics (much as Victorian literature has). There have been cycles of criticism, however, and now (thanks to the work of writers like Marsh), it is more favourable assessed. However, Millet was by no means exceptional in what he produced - the NSW Art Gallery was building up its collection at the time he was painting, and you could walk into the galleries there and see any number of paintings of similar quality and technical prowess by artists that, while movers and shakers in their day, are today known only to art historians that specialise in the period.
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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 I indicated, I will read the work with interest - always, of course, keeping in mind the context of the pantheon of other talented minor artists whose work is no more prominant today than Millet's.

Elizabeth Siddal's popularity has, over the last few decades, been reassessed and her place in art history critically examined. There was a major exhibition of her work mounted in the 80s, curated by Jan Marsh, who has also written several brilliant books about Siddal and her pre-Raphaelite sisters. One of these, The Legend of Elizabeth Siddal, examines in fascinating, insightful, sometimes provocative detail the body of Siddal's work, her influence on the pre-Raphaelite movement and her subsequent legendary incarnations in art, film and biography. It's a brilliant book, and encompasses a feminist reappraisal of the male-dominated art hierarchy's interpretation of her work, her struggles against the patriarchy, and the gender politics of interpretation. The woman was considered by both Ruskin and Rossetti to be a genius. I was very, very impressed with the book - it challenged some of my ideas about gender privilege and art. However, at the end of the day, I went back to Siddal's work and looked at it. And I have to say that, in spite of the evidence amassed by Marsh, and the some valid points she made about gender and criticism, I couldn't say that I was convinced Siddal's work should be elevated to a high position in the consideration of 19th Century art. I like it and always have, and I do think that it has been to an extent neglected or considered simply as a footnote to her relationship with Ruskin and Rossetti, but I do not think the work itself merits her placement among major art figures.
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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.
Perhaps you could direct me to the specific paitings you feel would cause me to reverse my opinion? And what exactly it is about their background and inspiration that should cause me to regard them any more highly than, say, the similarly pretty, polished and sentimental works of Maria Stillman? His output seems to have been uneven - some of his works might transcend this (I have alluded to his portraiture, for example, and am aware that mawkish historical 'costume pieces' do not constitute his sole output), but I've yet to see anything that indicates he was exceptional among the ranks of the artists working at that period.
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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.
Yes, my remarks have been primarily directed at his artistic output. Viewed in the context of the international late Victorian and Edwardian period, his work hardly stood out - there were many artists working internationally who were just as competant, but who today are obscure. I am also conscious of the fact that he worked to promote art internationally, but he was hardly Robinson Crusoe in that regard. And yet other artists or art establishment figures today are equally less known outside the work of those who specialise in that period.

Of course, part of this discussion centres around the perspective or context through which we view his life. If one were to specialise in the American art scene for that period - not just on the works themselves but also on the administrative and financial side of it - he assumes a greater importance than if we look at it from a broader perspective. I have a tremendous love and enthusiasm for the artists of the era - particularly some of the minor painters - but I don't feel the need to emphasise their importance in art history in order to appreciate and admire them.
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For myself I have no prejudices or preconceptions about Millet that make me a proponent.
Neither do I. If anything, I have a tendency to champion lesser artists, in defiance of conventional artistic interpretation. I enjoy chocco-box art - one of the first things I did when I arrived in London was race over to the National Portrait Gallery to see the Millais exhibition and delight in his society portraits and pretty, if sometimes mawkish, sentimental or trite, paintings. However, a love of 19th Century art, and some more obscure artists, has also educated me in seeing their work in perspective.
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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.
I'll read it with interest, but I haven't seen anything of his art, or in the material I've read, that seems the harbinger of a radical reassessment that will bring him to the forefront of his international peers.

I'm all in favour of works featuring quality and innovative research focusing on now-obscure figures in the cultural and political world of any age when there is material to support it. My own work is focused on 'ordinary' individuals of considerably less prominence than the Millets (or Stillmans or Maclises) of the age. All this work gives a greater appreciation of the age and those individuals who comprised it at various levels, even thought few of them have endured enduring posthumous fame. They're all interesting, even if it took the Titanic to bring the lense of 21st Century scrutiny on their lives and careers.​
 

Inger Sheil

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Hallo Miles! It's funny you should bring up Ruskin, because I've had him in the back of my mind as a comparison to Millet. I'm an unabashed fan of Ruskin's writing, although I'm afraid not so much of some of his personal dealings with individuals, and particularly his treatment of his wife, Effie.

Ruskin's visual artistic output, very well observed and technically competant observations of the natural world in particular, is quite appealing. However, if his reputation rested upon these works, he would have long since lapsed into utter obscurity.

Where Ruskin comes into his own is as an influential art and social critic. He attacked the stagnation of British art in the first half of the 19th Century, and was one of the first to recognise and promote the talents of Turner and later Rossetti. His writings - particularly his The Stones of Venice and the five volumes of his Modern Painters, had a galvanising effect on the art community, and heavily influenced much that followed after. He was an early champion of the pre-Raphaelites, and his letter in their defence to the Times marked a turning point in public perception of their work.

His influence extended to other areas - he was a powerful voice against the environmental and social effects of industrialisation, and helped inspire the Arts and Crafts Movement, the foundation of the National Trust, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings and the Labour Movement. The impact of many of his ideas are still felt today in a diverse range of artistic and social areas.

I agree with you that the 19th century was an age of diversification. It has been suggested that what would most astonish the cultivated man of the 1800s about today would be our tendency towards specialisation. While this has allowed tremendous advancements in certain fields, it has also resulted in a certain narrowing of focus. Look at a man like Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the tremedous things he achieved in many fields, from war to civil administration to academics, and you can't help but be impressed by how broad his mind and interests were.
 
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"...unfortunately we can't judge people by what might have happened had they devoted their time and efforts to one particular sphere, or if they had lived long enough to do so..."

I agree we can't (nor should we wish to) judge anybody by the eternal "might have been." I was only pointing out some specific reviews I've read. But really, there's more than enough information, both archival and visual, to prove that Millet's achievements were great by any standard. Indeed Mr. Engstrom's book will reestablish an appreciation of Millet's contributions to the art world as well as in many other spheres, showing that he made an impact culturally that indeed set him apart from his contemporaries, a fact that was freely acknowledged in his day but which has been forgotten along the path of time.

"...not a major figure in art history..."

Again, let me say that who makes it into any history book as a major figure in any metier depends on who the historian and his editor selects to represent a particular epoch or movement. It really comes down to that. General studies are not, by definition, comprehensive studies. Thus they don't always fairly reflect the tempo of developments in a given field but rather broadbrush events and personalities, the result being that many critical aspects and figures are not touched on, giving an unbalanced and, frankly, pedestrian view.

"...As I indicated, I will read the work with interest - always, of course, keeping in mind the context of the pantheon of other talented minor artists whose work is no more prominant today than Millet's. .."

I'm sure the author would urge you to read it with whatever caveat or disclaimer you wish, so long as you read it!
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Of course, it's better to keep an open mind. Your statement seems to show that you're ready to dismiss it in favor of your own preconceptions.

"...Perhaps you could direct me to the specific paintings you feel would cause me to reverse my opinion? ..."

Why don't you wait for Shelley's website and Engstrom's book before you try to reverse or affirm your opinion? I'm not their spokesperson nor do I need to be defending Millet ad infinitum. His life and career don't require a defense. They only need a venue by which they can be appreciated by those who care to learn more and I'm glad to know that's soon to happen.

"...And what exactly it is about their background and inspiration that should cause me to regard them any more highly than, say, the similarly pretty, polished and sentimental works of Maria Stillman?..."

What you see in a picture, as the saying goes, isn't "the whole picture." It is always important to know the artist's inspiration, his or her personal connection to the work, what it might have signified politically or socially at the time it was created, etc. This goes a long way toward appreciating the emotional resonance of a piece. One must not only see a work of art for what it IS but for what it WAS.

"...His output seems to have been uneven..."

Maybe it was. Maybe it wasn't. But without being acquainted with his oeuvre or body of work, you can't really very safely make that call, can you?

"...I've yet to see anything that indicates he was exceptional among the ranks of the artists working at that period..."

You've yet to see it because Millet's work hasn't been adequately represented, displayed or documented yet. It is a project in the unfolding. Your resistance reminds me of those who scoffed at the recent rediscovery of the work of Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun, court painter under Louis XVI, a monumentally influential artist and social figure of that reign but who was almost totally forgotten after the Revolution.

"...I don't feel the need to emphasise their importance in art history in order to appreciate and admire them..."

Neither do I. But that's not what's happening here. I am merely pointing out that a major revisiting of the man's life and accomplishments is underway, an undertaking that is not just to be commended but may necessitate a reassessment of his role in the art world. The author has put his heart into this work, has had the wholehearted support of Millet's family and, so I understand, has enlisted the enthusiastic cooperation of major museums, archives, critics and historians from around the world, all of whom are proud to be a part of what promises to be an important biography.

"...I haven't seen anything of his art, or in the material I've read, that seems the harbinger of a radical reassessment that will bring him to the forefront of his international peers..."

You keep saying that and I keep responding that the reason is because there's not a lot out there yet to see or read for you to be able to make a truly educated opinion on the scope or tenor of Millet's work. Forgive me, but you're being rather thick on this one, Inger. And who said anything about a "radical" reassessment? I believe I said "major," not radical.

"...I'm all in favour of works featuring quality and innovative research focusing on now-obscure figures in the cultural and political world of any age when there is material to support it..."

There's plenty of material to support this case if you can just hold your horses long enough to read and view it.
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Inger Sheil

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Dec 3, 2000
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quote:

But really, there's more than enough information, both archival and visual, to prove that Millet's achievements were great by any standard.
I have to disagree with that statement, and I think that's probably seminal to where we're parting ways...by what 'standard' are we measuring 'great'? My definition and perameters are evidently differing greatly from yours.
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Indeed Mr. Engstrom's book will reestablish an appreciation of Millet's contributions to the art world as well as in many other spheres, showing that he made an impact culturally that indeed set him apart from his contemporaries, a fact that was freely acknowledged in his day but which has been forgotten along the path of time.
The opinion of his contemporaries is not really a great yardstick by which to measure the 'greatness' or otherwise of a man in a wider historical context. History is a long procession of figures who are prominent in their day, but whose works do not stand the test of time.
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Again, let me say that who makes it into any history book as a major figure in any metier depends on who the historian and his editor selects to represent a particular epoch or movement. It really comes down to that.
I disagree - it is not that simple. Inevitably there are differences of opinion on the merit of particular artists who are chosen to represent an epoch in studies, and what delights one person appalls another. However, it is not, as your statement implies, merely a whim of the author or editor that establishes or demolishes an artist's reputation. There is an accumulated assessment of years that goes into it. It is not entirely true to say that Millet is utterly neglected - a google search will turn up quite a few of his images and a few thumbnail bios. However, I think his footnoted position is pretty much where he belongs.
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Of course, it's better to keep an open mind. Your statement seems to show that you're ready to dismiss it in favor of your own preconceptions.
Well, I already have an opinion (not a 'preconception'), and in reading this work I'm prepared to be persuaded to change my own perception. I am always mindful of the author's position in advocating a certain position and interpretation, and while I'm happy to hear the praises of Millet sung, I'm not going discard my knowledge of other minor artists of the same style.
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General studies are not, by definition, comprehensive studies. Thus they don't always fairly reflect the tempo of developments in a given field but rather broadbrush events and personalities, the result being that many critical aspects and figures are not touched on, giving an unbalanced and, frankly, pedestrian view.
On the other hand, a specific study can distort the perceptions of the reader (and the writer!) by narrowing their focus on a particular figure. All things loom large in the microscope, even if they're not that big in the over-all picture. A reader of Marsh's work on Elizabeth Siddal, for example, could be forgiven for wondering why she isn't better known. Same with Julian Ashton etc. The biographical subject fills the gaze, but when viewed in a wider context they're merely a part of the tapestry.
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Why don't you wait for Shelley's website and Engstrom's book before you try to reverse or affirm your opinion?
As you've devoted a good deal of time to telling me that I'm wrong, why not take the time to highlight what previously unveiled fact(s) or piece(s) of art that would cause me to decide he was a major figure in art history?
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What you see in a picture, as the saying goes, isn't "the whole picture." It is always important to know the artist's inspiration, his or her personal connection to the work, what it might have signified politically or socially at the time it was created, etc. This goes a long way toward appreciating the emotional resonance of a piece. One must not only see a work of art for what it IS but for what it WAS.
That's only a componant of art criticism. Evaluation of the merits of a piece of art are based on more than an historical context. I don't see why Millet should be a special case - Stillman's personal history and motivations, not to mention the obstacles she faced as a female artist, make her quite an extraordinary figure. Her art is quite as technically accomplished as Millets. But she's still another footnoter.
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Maybe it was. Maybe it wasn't. But without being acquainted with his oeuvre or body of work, you can't really very safely make that call, can you?
Are you suggesting that he was exceptionaly unfortunate in that predominantly poorer specimens of his work have been presented on-line? Are 'Between Two Fires' and its kin unrepresentative aberrations?
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You've yet to see it because Millet's work hasn't been adequately represented, displayed or documented yet. It is a project in the unfolding. Your resistance reminds me of those who scoffed at the recent rediscovery of the work of Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun, court painter under Louis XVI, a monumentally influential artist and social figure of that reign but who was almost totally forgotten after the Revolution.
And your insistance on the qualities of Millet's art reminds me of attempts to rehabilitate the reputations of artists like Siddal, not merely to redeem their work from obscurity, but to place it in a pre-eminant position. Sometimes this approach is warranted - see the recent reappraisals of Artemisia's work - but sometimes it exagerates the importance of a figure.
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I am merely pointing out that a major revisiting of the man's life and accomplishments is underway, an undertaking that is not just to be commended but may necessitate a reassessment of his role in the art world. The author has put his heart into this work, has had the wholehearted support of Millet's family and, so I understand, has enlisted the enthusiastic cooperation of major museums, archives, critics and historians from around the world, all of whom are proud to be a part of what promises to be an important biography.
And I have said - several times - that I welcome this work and certainly think the man's life merits a comprehensive biographical treatment. However, such a reassesment does not necessarily mean that Millet will be re-established as a major figure in art history. Art historians, museums and collectors publish extensively on most items - it's remarkable, if anything, that a Folio book has not been issued recently on his work. I used to haunt the bookshops in Charing Cross road looking for the beautifully reproduced illustrations with witty and perceptive essays that appear on some of my favourite minor painters.
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You keep saying that and I keep responding that the reason is because there's not a lot out there yet to see or read for you to be able to make a truly educated opinion on the scope or tenor of Millet's work.
Well, I've invited you to point to specific works that you think will cause me to re-assess my views of his work. It is attractive, it is skillful, but it is also rather slight. There are any number of artists contemporary with Millet whose output is similar in style and quality. Which is not to dismiss him as either unworthy of study or admiration - again, I believe he had some depth and skill as a portrait painter (and, I'm willing to believe, as a muralist). But the same could be said of many minor artists of the period - let's restore Julian Ashton to prominance. And Stillman. And Strudwick (well...maybe not Strudwick. He's already adorning too many full page layouts in coffee table books as it is!).
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Forgive me, but you're being rather thick on this one, Inger.
No, I don't think I will forgive you for that one. While you're at it, why not just call me a philistine because I have the temerity to differ with you on a matter of artistic opinion.

I have no particular illusions about the art world or art itself, however much I love it. My family has hosted artists from around the world, and many have become friends. I grew up with art and artists - Del Pratt painted us as children (leading to many a visitor who walks into our home asking 'is that an original Del Pratt??' when confronted with a portrait of my cornflower-blue eyed sister). My father was often called upon to assist on judging panels for overseas awards and to perform openings, and he'd take me along. By the time I was in my early teens, I was comfortable talking art with professional artists, critics and historians. My own work was exhibited before I was twenty, and long after I 'retired' from doing commissioned portraits I still received requests from those who already had pieces of my art. I was in the top HSC band in the State for both art theory and practical work, and was accepted to study art at Sydney University (I had to drop it when I followed English Lit and history instead). I'm not awed or intimidated by either art or artists, and calling me 'thick' will hardly induce me to change my opinion.

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And who said anything about a "radical" reassessment? I believe I said "major," not radical.
Any assessment that promotes Millet from the position he now holds to that of a 'major' figure in art history would be radical indeed.​
 
May 12, 2005
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"...My definition and perameters are evidently differing greatly from yours..."

Yes, something tells me we just aren't going to see eye to eye on Millet.

"...The opinion of his contemporaries is not really a great yardstick by which to measure the 'greatness' or otherwise of a man in a wider historical context..."

I didn't say that his contemporaries' opinion was a yardstick by which to measure his greatness. I made a statement of fact to which you have attached your own meaning.

"...However, it is not, as your statement implies, merely a whim of the author or editor that establishes or demolishes an artist's reputation..."

I did not say it was a whim. What I said was, and I repeat, that it is historians and editors who select who is to be covered and spotlighted in a published work. Exigencies of space, available documentation, available artwork to accompany the subject, all these are factors in choosing who and what goes and who and what doesn't. As an editor, I have to do this every week, on a smaller scale of course.

Still, it is never an idle whim to decide what goes to press. There are many factors that come into play in making final decisions and cuts, many of which are regrettable and often contentious. Important amendments or additions may not make it to press because of deadlines, an entry may be cut due to space, a chapter may be whittled down to better suit the layout of corresponding images. Such things can and do "make or break" even when the writers and editors are trying their best to be fair and give equal treatment.

"...It is not entirely true to say that Millet is utterly neglected..."

I did not say he was "utterly neglected."

"...However, I think his footnoted position is pretty much where he belongs..."

On the one hand you say that your mind is open to learning more about the artist and to a possible reassessment yet you continually affirm that your pre-opinion of him as a "footnoter," though admittedly based only on sparsely available source material, is all that he'll likely ever be.

"...On the other hand, a specific study can distort the perceptions of the reader (and the writer!) by narrowing their focus on a particular figure..."

I said "comprehensive" study, not "specific." I was speaking against general studies that are not comprehensive, not about "specific" studies.

"...As you've devoted a good deal of time to telling me that I'm wrong..."

I only see that you have a differing opinion. I don't think you are wrong for having it.

"...why not take the time to highlight what previously unveiled fact(s) or piece(s) of art that would cause me to decide he was a major figure in art history? ..."

Because, as I have said, his biographer is the one who will make known all that we can then examine, once it is available. You are wanting to debate and come to a conclusion before the author has even presented his case.

"...Are you suggesting that he was exceptionally unfortunate in that predominantly poorer specimens of his work have been presented on-line? Are 'Between Two Fires' and its kin unrepresentative aberrations? ..."

Yes, I think, to some extent, what is available of Millet's work on the Internet is inferior to some prints I have seen. I would not say that "Between Two Fires" is an aberration but I cannot tell you that it is exactly representative of his work either. I am not trying to set myself up as an expert judge of his work, whereas you seem to be doing so, by calling for a debate of his paintings' merit. I am only saying that there is much that awaits our eyes and minds on this subject, which will surely open Millet's life and career up for wider appreciation (as well as scrutiny).

"...And your insistence on the qualities of Millet's art reminds me of attempts to rehabilitate the reputations of artists like Siddal, not merely to redeem their work from obscurity, but to place it in a preeminent position..."

I have never said that Millet's work should be placed in a preeminent position. I said that it wants reappraisal and that the extraordinary depth of research that has gone into the book is sure to elevate public appreciation for Millet, not just as a painter but as a cultural and political figure.

"...Well, I've invited you to point to specific works that you think will cause me to reassess my views of his work..."

And I have declined because, in my opinion, it would be foolhardy to critique and evaluate his body of work when it is not yet before us to examine thoroughly. His biographer has not even had his say yet. Still you are ready to debate me about it? I am waiting to read it as much as you are.

"...While you're at it, why not just call me a philistine because I have the temerity to differ with you on a matter of artistic opinion..."

Come now, I don't think you are a philistine. You are widely read and informed; we all know that. Your intellect sings all over the place when you write. When you say this is only a matter of artistic opinion, you are right. Let's remember that. This is not a feud.

"...I have no particular illusions about the art world or art itself, however much I love it...."

Your knowledge of history is wide and your appreciation of art is deep. So you don't have to defend your qualifications to me. But I must say that all this time, I never knew you were a painter.

"...I'm not awed or intimidated by either art or artists, and calling me 'thick' will hardly induce me to change my opinion..."

I'm not aiming to change your opinion and I do apologize for using the term "thick."
 
G

Guest (R17)

Guest
Hello Inger

I can’t really comment on the current discussion about Millet as it is very much out of my league of intellect. My brain will not allow
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But talking about Ruskin I visited his house/museum in Dorest many years ago, so obviously he is better known than Millet. But a lot of people in those days did spread themselves over quite a range of subjects and often were incredibly talented in each area. I think maybe there were probably quite a few Millet figures around in the early part of the 20th century and late 19th century. Maybe this is because the whole education system was different than it is today. I imagine in those day’s people were actually ‘trained’ more how to paint and it would have been more strict. Whereas I suspect art teachers today take a more modern approach and rather than train a student and alter their so-called natural emerging talent they stand back and are more free and nurturing. I don’t think I am being very clear - but my father is always talking about a time when people were actually educated. But then this view is just said in passing, after a glass of wine.

Education was different I think. For example I would imagine the art teachers of Millets day would have been more strict and if he were to sketch in pen they would tell him it was wrong and give him a pencil ! Today the modern art teacher would say there are no rules to art. I don’t think it was just art that people were more trained in, but other areas also for example handwriting. You don’t get this today do you ? Students are left to their own devices more and they don’t actually get shown on a black board how to draw a letter. I have had some experience of an old fashioned education from 2 years of school in South Africa where they use to teach in a more old fashioned way — and if you were to get a letter wrong you’d get hit on the hand with a ruler. That is another subject and I imagine things out there to have changed quite a bit during the past 15 years.

Anyway maybe the way of doing things and educating people might have something to do with why so many people during this time seemed to excel in a whole range of subjects rather than just one.
 
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It certainly is exciting to see such animated discussion about Millet- which is actually at the bottom of all the ongoing research and revelations to come about the man. Whether or not he will be re-examined in a new light as an artistic genius remains to be seen, What is important to me, and to many others, is that his life, and his many contributions in numerous fields of endeavor including the visual arts, international affairs, diplomacy, journalism , to name but a few- will at long last be recorded and recognized for posterity. As of yesterday, I am glad to be able to announce a new society will be forming- Friends of Frank Millet, in East Bridgewater, and that I have initiated the groundwork for a conservation grant with the East Bridgewater Library, Millet Room to conserve and archive the considerable Millet collection of ephemera and canvases on exhibit there. I am excited about this opportunity which will begin this month, and am looking forward to sharing the findings with the Titanic community. I have spoken recently to a woman in New York city who is cataloguing all known works of Millet-of course the famous portrait #41 in the military series done with Archibald Butt as sitter is of paramount interest to many of us. Exciting things are happening in the Millet arena, and I hope he will be seen in a new light as the Renaissance man and visionary that he was. Many, I believe, may be dazzled in the end. He deserves a more fitting epitaph than "drowned on Titanic" which is on his stone.
 

Bob Godfrey

Member
Nov 22, 2002
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Shelley, I believe the image included with the framed collection of medals is not a photograph but is taken rather from the painted portrait (now in the Smithsonian) by Millet's close friend and travelling companion George Maynard. Or perhaps Maynard worked from a photograph? I haven't posted the image as it can be easily found online, here for instance:
http://www.npg.si.edu/cexh/brush/index/portraits/millet.htm

I wonder could you advise on the correct pronunciation of Millet's name - in the French style, or anglicised?
 
Apr 11, 2001
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HI Bob- it is pronounced like the cereal grain with the accent on the first syllable to rhyme with skillet! Originally there was an extra t on the end which was dropped along the way. Yes, the photo above is in a collage with medals in the public library in East Bridgewater and the photo is of that portrait indeed- I believe one of his brother's has a spray of cereal millet on his gravestone, I will scan it later. Of course Josiah and his Dad have the medical cadeusus. It's a lovely cemetery plot for Millets, complete with family pets. Frank's wife Lily, however is not there and ended up in England, which she highly prefered.
 

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