Frank D. Millet: His life and work

Brian Ahern

Dec 19, 2002
Here is a NY Times piece mentioning "FD Millet" as one of the passengers on an 1894 voyage that took Mark Twain to Europe:

The New York Times, August 16, 1894

He Has a Celebrated, but Gloomy Fellow Passenger in the Person of Mark Twain.

Judging from the number of cabin passengers who were carried out by yesterday's outgoing steamships, the tide of eastward travel has begun to ebb. There were many staterooms to spare on the ships that sailed, but there were also many notables among the passengers, a full list of whom was printed in The New York Times yesterday.

Mayor Gilroy, who was among those who sailed by the Paris for Southampton, said just before embarking that he was making the trip simply for a rest, and that he intended to return on the Trave, early in September.

"I do not expect," he added, "to see Mr. Grace, and my trip has no political significance whatever. I have just come from the City Hall, where I have been saying goodbye to my friends. At my request, none of them came here to see me off."

The Mayor is accompanied by his two sons and Miss Fanny Gilroy. His party was followed over the gangplank by a solemn-visaged, grizzly-mustached individual, who is known to his fellow-passengers as Samuel L. Clemens, and to a wider circle as Mark Twain. A deckhand stationed at the gangplank eyed Mark with suspicion, and, blocking the way, demanded to know if he was a passenger. The innocent who was going abroad looked dismally at his questioner and said he didn't know. Then he carefully deposited a pictorial carpetbag on the gangplank and drew forth a passenger list, which he consulted with much deliberation. He found his name inscribed thereon, and announced with an air of triumph that he was a passenger. Then he gathered up his belongings and resumed his funereal march, while the astonished deckhand made anxious inquiries as to who the melancholy person was.

To the reporters Mark Twain explained that he was going over to see his wife and family, who are in Etrerat, and who are, according to the husband, supporting a couple of doctors at that place.

"When a European doctor gets hold of a good patient," Mark Twain observed, "the medical man passes the patient along to some friend in another place, and, like the Wandering Jew, the sick person is constantly kept moving.

"I am getting to be very fond of the ocean," he added gravely, and then said, more seriously, that after the first six or seven days he found a boundless enjoyment in a trip across.

The author neglected to add that the average time of passage these days is less than six days, and there is consequently a suspicion that his love for the ocean wave is not so very deep, after all.

Mrs. Mary Frost Ormbsy, who also sailed by the Paris, goes to represent the Universal Peace Union and the American Peace Society at the International Peace Congress in Antwerp. She says she deems her appointment by both organizations to represent America in another peace congress a sufficient reply to all the published attacks against her.

Others who sailed by the Paris were Henry E. Abbey, E. A. Apgar, Dr. William H. Bennett, J. E.Comins, Co.. Greene of the Seventy-first Regiment and Mrs. Greene, Mrs. E.Stauffer Chalmers, Bolossy Kiralfy, Mrs. J. V. L. Pruyn, Miss Mathilde Townsend, the Rev. and Mrs. Kearsey Thomas, Count and Countess Piola Caselli, W. H. Dayton, Mr. A. G. Menocal, Bishop and Mrs. A. N. Littlejohn and Miss Littlejohn, and F. D. Millet.
Mar 20, 2007
Now this has to be one of the most exciting and beguiling Titanic related websites I've discovered so far - complete transcripts of the family papers of Frank D. Millet, held in the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institute. There is, honestly, far too much of genuine interest here to be even briefly summarised by me but the vast collection of letters of condolence and support sent by colleagues, friends and relations from around the world to Mrs Millet in the immediate aftermath of the disaster is particularly rivetting. Some of her correspondents seem to have adopted an almost 'stream of consciousness' approach, pouring out their anxiety and grief to Mrs Millet as news of the sinking was still coming in. And what correspondents! I nearly fell out of my chair when I read the first letter, from the greatest actress of her generation, Ellen Terry - dated 'midnight, 16th April' and beginning 'Pray God you may now have some good news'. And then there is author Henry James - 'the blackest thing in the world makes me write. We are all together under the hideous shock of this Titanic horror and we reach out to each other in the darkness'.

As previous contributions to this thread have demonstrated, opinion is still divided as to whether or not Millet was a 'good' artist - but, based on the evidence here, there can be little doubt of the enormous impact he made on everybody he met during his tragically curtailed lifetime.

Here's the link. Enjoy.
Mar 20, 2007
The New York Times of 7th April, 1912, records the presence of both Frank and Lily Millet in Rome. By all accounts, they were there to supervise the fitting-out of the Consolidated American Academy (of which Frank was the newly-appointed president) at the Villa Aurelia, which was famed for its gardens of 'surpassing loveliness'.

Lily was originally to accompany her husband to America on the Titanic but, for some reason, her trip was deferred and she only went as far as Paris with him. In the letter he penned aboard ship (quoted in full in a post above), Millet describes in cryptic but tantalising terms the problems he'd encountered in Italy:

'...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.'

'Mead' is, of course, William Mead of the prestigious American firm of architects, McKim, Mead and White (the 'White' being Stanford White, J. Clinch Smith's brother-in-law, who had been shot by Harry K. Thaw in 1906). Who the 'b....' might have been, I have no idea. Possibly a fellow member on the board of the Academy who had rather too much to say for herself? Interestingly, the same report from the Times mentions that Millet was booked to sail with Archibald Butt and also that the John Jacob Astors were newly arrived in town from Naples, prior to going on to Paris themselves.

Reading Millet's Titanic letter again, I've been struck by his comment about 'our people'. As far as I'm aware, this remark has eluded notice until now but I do wonder if he is in fact referring to his fellow passengers of Jewish extraction? Millet was an exceptionally cultivated and well-travelled man, with an enormous range of friends and acquaintances around the world, but his throw-away remark might reflect the casual anti-Semitism of the period. Names like Guggenheim, Straus, Brandeis, Greenfield and Rothschild would have stood out a mile on the first-class passenger list and it is interesting to consider the attitude a WASP like Millet might have adopted towards them (at least, I assume that Millet was a WASP). In all fairness, however, it has to be admitted that Millet also performs a neat hatchet job on his fellow Americans in general - 'the scourge of any place they infest'!

Doug Criner

Dec 2, 2009
I first assumed maybe his art collection was somehow inspired by the Titanic - but, I learned that he died in the Titanic sinking. He was a companion of Archibald Butt and was described as a "soldier of fortune." I'm not in position to comment on his objets d'art shown on the auction site..


Jun 4, 2017
Neither am I. I do know that there are works by him in several museums, including the MET, Smithsonian and Boston museum of fine arts. This one doesn't look to me to be among his finest works and so may sell quite reasonable.
I do know that he was a winner of several war medals and according to at least one account was last seen helping women and children into the lifeboats.

Dave Gittins

Apr 11, 2001
Millet was a very capable painter of the chocolate box school. He tended to paint anything but contemporary America. Plenty of his work can be seen online but search for his full name or you'll get paintings by Jean-François Millet. An amusing example of his work is Between two Fires, which has nothing to do with the military.

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