Frank D. Millet: His life and work


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I don’t know why but for some reason Stewart Sutcliff comes to mind. Please forgive me for making what must seem like a bizarre comparison. But I’m sure his work would also have been exhibited round the world, appeared in books and his paintings would fetch quite a hefty price because of his connection with The Beatles. But would we honestly be talking about this now or know of Millet if it were not for his connection with the Titanic - as with Sutcliff and his connection with The Beatles? I understand Millet unlike Sutcliff was far more established as an artist and well known in his various fields. But I certainly would never have heard of him had he not be connected to something more well known.

Without the Titanic I wonder if Millet would have gone into a black hole with many other Millets of that period only to be known by people who specialise in this particular avenue of art and history ?

I’m not trying to divert the discussion onto The Beatles btw. I have started to talk out of my league - so I don’t mind if I am clipped round the ear. But I think maybe some of us would not have heard of both artists (as talented as they may be) if it were not for these connections.
 

Bob Godfrey

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Thanks, Shelley. Am I right in thinking that the model for the foreground figure in the image I posted earlier (Wandering Thoughts) was Lily Millet? She certainly looks a lot like the portrait of Lily by Singer Sargent.

(There ya go, Miles, 'Pictures of Lily' - now we've got The Who in the thread as well as the Beatles!)
 
G

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I don't want to draw attention to The Beatles. I was just saying that sometimes some of us only hear about people because of a connection to something more famous.
 
G

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For all I know if Millet had not died on the Titanic he would have gone on to be more famous.
 

George Behe

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Hi, Shelley!

> I hope he will be seen in a new light as the >Renaissance man and visionary that he was.

Absolutely. Your description of Millet as a sort of Renaissance man is a fairly apt summing up of the artist's many and varied accomplishments; along with you and Randy, I'm looking forward to absorbing the contents of the upcoming biography when it comes out.

By the way, will the Millet Society have an online presence?

All my best,

George
 
Apr 11, 2001
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You bet George- am not shy about websites as you know! Now that I have the support of the public library staff and their facility as a meeting place, and a great prospect of lecturers, looks like at least an annual meeting, and I plan a quarterly newsletter as well, called- The Pallette! My next stop is the local historical society, which I am certain will add their enthusiasm to the plan. The website should be up in about 2 weeks, and will include his art, bio, critiques, Titanic coverage, virtual tour of his studio, The Broadway School, and lots of photographs- it is a work in progress over the past 6 months. I am working to get permission to link to several VOYAGE articles , including a recent one about his murals in Cleveland. We've got 11 members so far- want to make it 12?!
 

George Behe

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Dec 11, 1999
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Hi, Shelley!

Outstanding!

>We've got 11 members so far- want to make it 12?!

Absolutely. Could you please post some membership info for those of us who are interested in Millet's life and work? Thanks very much.

All my best,

George
 
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Welcome Aboard as a charter member George- an even dozen- sounds good. Pete Engstrom's book is yet unpublished, but a good Boston agent is working on that as we speak. We are planning the first meeting for foliage time, probably early October in Bridgeport, and I hope not only Pete, but the woman I mentioned above, who has written her doctoral thesis, entitled "The Formative Years of the Cosmopolian Yankee" will be speakers. Frank D. Millet II lives nearby and is an educator at a local college, and can attend, which will be a great honor. The first issue of The Pallette, which will be in a 6 page booklet format, will debut at the inaugural meeting. The cost, of course will be just printing and postage-very minimal. The Friends of the Library and the grant will help greatly to provide funds for the conservation project, which I will undertake with Peter in July. Exciting times! I can see why our old friend Maj. Butt was such a good friend of Frank's, himself the Southern version of the "Cosmopolitan Yankee"! Info on The Friends of Frank Millet Society, and how to subscribe to the mailing list will appear on the website-coming very soon to a computer on your desk. I can take names, and emails of any interested folks who will want to receive the newsletter at [email protected], or be a part of Frank's appreciative circle of admirers. I will also post something here, when the first issue is ready to mail out, and there will be a website link.
 

Inger Sheil

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quote:

Yes, something tells me we just aren't going to see eye to eye on Millet.
At least we’ll concur on that!

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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.
It was a comment on what you said, which was:
quote:

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.
I was making an observation on the suggestion that he had an impact that was freely acknowledged in his own time but which has been forgotten. The contemporary opinion of the stature and influence of a man is not necessarily borne out in the passage of time — not because people simply forget, but sometimes because distance gives perspective that is lacking by those too close to events.

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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.
Which is what I would contend about who does and does not make the cut — although I doubt that Millet’s role has been edited down due to lack of space, layout considerations or deadlines! He would be terribly unfortunate if his supposed neglect was due to 90 years of layout difficulties. Far more consideration goes into inclusion than that.

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"...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.
I have formulated my opinion on what work is available. If works of art that show greater depth, vision and innovation than those thus far produced can be identified, then I’m happy to re-evaluate that opinion. At the moment, though, nothing that has been produced in this thread has caused me to revise that opinion.

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"...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.
A comprehensive study of Millet would have a specific focus on him, surely? My point still stands.

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"...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.
Only that I’m being ‘thick’ about it - although I note, accept and thank you for your apology on this point, you can understand why when I wrote my last post I was be under the distinct impression you were telling me I was wrong for having an different opinion.

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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.
I’ve looked at the man’s work and have developed an opinion on it. And yet you’re telling me — without giving me anything material to counter it — that I shouldn’t have an opinion. I’ve already stated repeatedly I’m willing to revise my views on his art when more material is accessible if I feel it merits it, but at this stage you’re simply countering my views with something that hasn’t been presented yet.

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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).
I have never — not once — called myself an ‘expert judge’ of his work. I have simply offered my opinions as someone who loves the art of the era.

I’d be very interested in seeing material beyond his historical costume pieces — as I’ve said, I believe he had strengths in portraiture. However, until such pieces are produced, then I’ll stick to the views I have expressed.

"...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..."

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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.
Then what are we debating? You have contended that Millet is a ‘major’ figure in the art world, and I’ve simply agreed with Dave Gittens that while his work shows strengths in portraiture and brushwork, he remains essentially a minor figure. I have also said that I regard him as a good subject for further biographical exploration, and that I like some of his paintings.

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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 never regarded it as a feud, because — as my answers should indicate — I’m well steeped in the controversies of the art world and the problems of assessing artistic merit. No one who loves the pre-Raphaelites, Symbolists and Decadents could get away from debating their merits (or lack thereof). Although more highly regarded than they were in years past, they still tend to earn an arched eyebrow. I’ve argued the strengths and flaws of Rossetti into the small hours with mates, and sat at the living room table when the neighbour, and art restorer brought over a Dobell that he propped up for discussion. I used to get phone calls — ‘Pop in and have a look at the Warhol I’m working on’ or ‘someone’s just brought in a batch of Norman Lindsey etchings — I want you to see how he’s handled the draping of the figures.’ Being accustomed to getting stuck into a discussion, I don’t appreciate copping a backhander.
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But I must say that all this time, I never knew you were a painter.
I did not do much work when I was overseas, as I had neither the time nor space to paint. I did do a bit of sketching. Commissioned portraits helped pay my way through Uni. I also produced etchings when I had access to an etching press — my first sale came when I was in my teens, when a dealer was visiting my neighbour and caught sight of some of my prints drying. From time to time I’ve been asked to do some commercial work (in the most amusing instance, one bloke tried to enroll me in his t-shirt making business after seeing a few whimsical fantasy underwater scenes I’d done sketched during a meeting that a colleague had put up on a corkboard at work).
quote:

I'm not aiming to change your opinion and I do apologize for using the term "thick."
Thank you for the apology. My opinion can be changed, but I’d have to see new material. I would like to see more of his work in portraiture at any rate, and would like more opportunities to compare his historical paintings to the works of artists like Millais (along the lines of the boyhood of Raleigh paining) and William Dyce (e.g. Titian’s First Essay in Colour.​
 

Inger Sheil

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Hallo Miles -

I envy you the visit to Ruskin's Dorset home...I wish I'd had the chance to pop around there! People did tend to diversify more in previous ages as opposed to the comparatively modern phenomena of specialisation (at least those who had the leisure and money to do so). Fowles wrote a wonderful passage on this tendency in The French Lieutenant's Woman which, for a work of fiction, reads at time like a collection of essays on the Victorian age and how it differs from our own.
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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.
This is partially true - art training was more rigid in the Victorian era. One of the most interesting things about the pre-Raphaelites is their attempts to break away from the conventions of their predecessors and the art establishment (hence the name) - they were scathing about the more stagnant aspects of art. What they didn't realise, as they were comparatively isolated, is that similar reactions to established artistic conventions were taking place elsewhere (in France, for example). This is why they and Ruskin fit so well together - he advocated a return to nature as the inspiration and source of art, and a close observation and reproduction of the natural world. Early pre-Raphaelites went sometimes to extremes to replicate nature - the famous story of Elisabeth Siddal catching cold in a bathtub as she modelled for Ophelia drowning is one example. They also attempted to find models who fitted the physical types they depicted - seeking out an actual carpenter to get the right musculature to depict Joseph is an example. Some of their work was extremely controversial as a result of this approach, and also of the social and religious themes they tackled.

Not everyone knuckled down to learn the technical side of the profession, however - Rossetti comes to mind. He once approached Ford Madox Brown to teach him and, while the two remained close friends, Rossetti had little patience with the technical aspects of art and abandoned the idea. As a result, his skills are not always equal to his remarkable vision.

Women, in particular, suffered from rigid techniques in art training. They were expected to paint a little (flowers, for example) as an accomplisment, but learned this by rote copying from plates and plaster models. The Bronte's work, Charlotte's in particular (Emily did break away and did a lot more life drawing and painting from the natural world) are good examples of this type of art education.

Modern art education - although it varies a good deal depending on teachers and institutions - tends to still teach skills based on the elements and principles of design and composition as well as other technical aspects of art. If you want to bend the rules, you have to first know what they are!​
 
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One of Frank's sketches just sold on ebay at auction for $600 http://cgi.liveauctions.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&rd=1&item=2270578016&category=73467
I also heard from a couple in England last week who had a Millet sketch from his war correspondent years (a bivouac scene) and are having it appraised. Having just finished sorting out the collection of his papers in Massachusetts, with an article on the same coming soon, his diaries are detailed and utterly fascinating, especially his trip out west with his son Alfred Parsons Millet. I also discovered the charm of Frank's animal sketches which are full of whimsey and so true to life. There are several of these in his grand daughter's bio SOLDIER OF FORTUNE.
 
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More correctly stated, Frank's son was John Alfred Parsons, named for the famous landscape painter and friend, Alfred Parsons.
 

Inger Sheil

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Very nice piece, Shelley - although the two were quite different in style, it reminds me a bit of some of Delcroix's work. Also some Australian Colonial and Post-Federation art, particularly some works that came out of the Boer War. Would like to see his animal sketches - I enjoyed doing them myself, until it became work and I had to meet deadlines and follow the directions of the person commissioning it ('No madam, I assure you...your silky terrier has far more character with its mouth open and tongue lolling out, and as that is its habitual appearance it is more accurate portraiture. No? Ah well...a ball of glossy fur it is, then...')
 
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Also up on ebay is a great sketch, recently uncovered, by Frank's very dear friend, illustrator Edwin Austin Abbey (Harper's Weekly), who stayed so often in Frank's upstairs guestroom in East Bridgewater that Millet carved Edwin's initials in the upper door casing. It can still be seen today. Frank's little boy was also named after Edwin, and sadly succumbed to diptheria, which nearly took the life of his beloved wife Lily and little daughter Kate. http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&category=20120&item=3748802462&rd=1
I am bidding on this one as well as an ebay first edition of Abbey's illustrations for the poems of Robert Herrick. Frank knew anybody with talent worth knowing in the art and literary fields, and just about everywhere else too!
 
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Dear All - Here is my printout on Mr. Millet - there may be something new for you - I have just added this lost to his biography page - Best regards - Brian

Millet, Mr. Francis Davis. Missing. Cabin E38. En route to c/o W. Boring, 32, Broadway, New York, USA. Born Mattapoisett, Mass. Embarked at Cherbourg.
Born 3rd November 1846.
Insurance claim number 27. Life: $100,000.

Marconigram dated 17th April 1912 from: Winfield Thompson. ''Operator Carpathia. Can you get survivor write Boston Globe full narrative disaster and also wireless report to Franconia, so get most promising man preferably Frank D. Millett or Major Butt. All charges paid here. Winfield Thompson.''

Body recovered number 249. Male. Estimated age, 65. Hair, grey.
Clothing:- Light overcoat; black pants; grey jacket; evening dress. Effects:- Gold watch and chain; ''F.D.M.'' on watch; glasses; two gold studs; silver tablet bottle; £2.10s.0d. in
gold; 8s in silver; pocketbook. Name Frank D. Millet.
Body delivered May 1st to Mr. Lovering Hill, for forwarding to Boston, USA. Permit issued April 30th, 1912. Mt. Auburn.
Probate Report: Millet, Francis Davis, of Russell House, Broadway, Worcestershire and Washington, United States of America.

Probate report: Probate registered London, 13th November, 1912, to Lily Millet, widow. Effects in England £4,474.1.11d.

Memorials
First Class Passenger and Internationally known painter, has a grave in East Bridgwater, Central Cemetery Massachusetts, USA.
also there are some lovely Lych Gates in his memory at Broadway Churchyard, Worcestershire.
also water fountain in memory of Archibald Butt and Mr. Frank Millet. Located close to the south portico of the White House, Washington, DC.


Jon Hollis has written a fine life history of Francis Davis Millet. (Voyage 8, June 1991 page 173).

Excerpt from above page eight:
While in Constantinople (now Istanbul) Frank recorded this incident: ''Up and down in front of the palace were a great number of carriages filled with ladies of the harem veiled of course very thinly and dressed in brilliant coloured silks. We were walking along, three of us, Maynard, a Greek and myself, when the Greek told us that one of the ladies was trying to get up a flirtation. I looked around and she nodded and smiled and waved her handkerchief. We had previously been warned not to attempt to flirt with the ladies because of the sure vengeance of the army of black chaps who saunter about to guard the fair ones. I couldn't resist giving an occasional sly signal back and we kept it up for some time. Finally she got a chance to speak and said in Turkish ''follow me''. Then we, thinking it had gone far enough, went away. She had made her driver follow us everywhere we went and was very persistent and the black guard never noticed the slightest breach of discipline. The next thing that puzzled me was why she should have singled me out, but the Greek said that when they do take a notion to anyone they are crazy after him. I shan't dare to go into that neighbourhood again for fear the fair Circassian may be imprudent enough or malicious enough to get me into difficulty''.

Letter to his old friend Alfred Parsons.
''On board R.M.S. Titanic April 11, 1912.
Dear Alfred
I got yours this morning and was glad to hear from you. I thought I told you my ship was the Titanic. She has everything but taxicabs and theatres., Table D' Hote, Restaurant a La Carte, Gymnasium, Turkish baths, Squash Court, Palm Gardens, smoking rooms for ''Ladies and Gents'', intended I fancy to keep the women out of the men's smoking room which they infest in the German and French steamers. The fittings are in the order of Haddon Hall and are exceedingly agreeable in design and colour. As for the rooms they are larger than the ordinary hotel room and much more luxurious with wooden bedsteads, dressing tables, hot and cold water, etc., etc., electric fans, electric heater and all. The suites with their damask hangings and mahogany oak furniture are really very sumptuous and tasteful. I have the best room I have ever had in a ship and it isn't one of the best either, a great long corridor in which to hang my clothes and a square window as big as the one the studio alongside the large light. No end of furniture, cupboards, wardrobe, dressing table, couch, etc., etc. Not a bit like going to sea. You can have no idea of the spaciousness of this ship and the extent and size of the decks. The boat deck has an uninterrupted space as long as our tennis court almost, and the chair decks are nearly as wide as our large courtyard, or quite. 500 people don't make a show on the decks. Queer lot of people on the ship. Looking over the list I only find three or four people I know but there a good many of ''our people'' I think and a number of obnoxious ostentatious American women, the scourge of any place they infest and worse on shipboard than anywhere. Many of them carry tiny dogs and lead husbands around like pet lambs. I tell you the American woman is a buster. She should be put in a harem and kept there.
Yes I had a devil of a time in Rome and if this sort of thing goes on I shall chuck it. I won't lose my time and temper too. I think Mead will resign. Lily will tell you about her, the B..... she makes trouble everywhere and he, poor wretch has to dangle about her day and night. I pity him.
I wrote from Paris the day we arrived. I couldn't tell where we should stop because I didn't know whether Lily would go to the Grand or not. We found it excellent.
Yours always
Frank''

(From The Aberdeen Daily Journal, 20th April, 1912).
Mr. F. D. Millet
In modern times at any rate the life of a successful artist is unusually placid and uneventful; few have crowded into it such variety as Mr. F. D. Millet, whose loss in the disaster which has befallen the Titanic will be deeply felt by many, both in England and America. He was not only an artist; he had seen active service and had been war correspondent, author, and director of arts, whilst only recently he had been appointed head of the American Academy at Rome. He will also be remembered as one of the principal founders of Broadway, the little artistic coterie in the Worcestershire village which included Miss Mary Anderson, the late Mr. Edwin Abbey, and Mr. Alfred Parsons, R.A.; with the last named Mr. Millet had long shared a studio. During the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 he was correspondent of the London Daily News and Graphic and of the New York Herald, whilst in 1898 he went to Manila as special correspondent for The Times and for Harper's Weekly.
(From Fate Deals a Hand, THS Commutator, Volume 6, Number 4, Winter 1982).
Artist Frank Millet, and a fourth gentleman unknown to Gracie. They seem oblivious to the happenings on the deck outside, preferring to sit alone in the room where they had spent many enjoyable hours during the last few evenings.
(From Evening News, Worcester, August 5, 1986).
''Drowned, too was a famous man from Broadway - 65-years-old F. D. Millet, a distinguished artist, author and war correspondent who lived at Russell House on the main approach from Evesham into the picturesque Worcestershire village.
He was born in America, served as a drummer boy with the Massachusetts Volunteers in the American Civil War, graduated from Harvard University and was vice-chairman of the US National Commission of Fine Art.
However he had lived in Broadway for the last 25 years of his life and was widely popular in the village. In the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 he was a special correspondent for The Times, Graphic and London Daily News.
He was last seen aboard the Titanic dining in very prestigious company. He was making one of his fairly regular visits to America and left a widow, two sons and a daughter''.

(From Evening News, Saturday January 24, 1988)
Frank Millet, 65, a distinguished artist, author and war correspondent who had lived the last 25 years of his life in Broadway, and was widely popular in the picturesque Cotswold village.
He was born in America, served as a drummer boy with the Massachusetts Volunteers in the American Civil War, graduated from Harvard University and was vice-chairman of the US National Commission of Fine Art.
In the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, he was a special correspondent for The Times, Graphic and London Daily News. He was last seen aboard the Titanic dining in very prestigious company. He was making one of his fairly regular visits to America and left a widow, two sons and a daughter.
 
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I think I have asked this question in the past. Where is Francis Millets artwork displayed? How significant of an artist was he?
 
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It has often been remarked that if Millet had purely concentrated on his art- he would have been famous. Frank was a genre painter(painting scenes from life). Some of his easel paintings were exhibited at the great world exhibitions. He is most famous in this country as a muralist, and his works are all over the big public buildings. Perhaps his most admired mural is in the Customs House in Baltimore, Maryland and features magnificent sailing clippers. The East Bridgewater Public Library features some of his canvases. Currently Dr. Gina D'Angelo is compiling a complete inventory of all Millet's paintings, and I hope to present that inventory here, by city so everybody can see at least one Millet in person. Some of his earlier works reflect the Flemish tradition due to his education in Belgium, and the PreRaphaelite influence creeps in as well-with a healthy dose of Alma-Tadema. I think he shines as a muralist and portratist, although his portrait of Archie Butt was a disappointment.
 

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