Miller: The Bigger Picture

Miller lived in Baltimore all his adult life, and he is often thought of as being something of a solitary man.  His special world was the West, and he was happy to reside there in the memories of his incredible journey to the Wind River Mountains in 1837. But, in reality, Miller was not such a lonely sort after all.  He was, in fact, an important force in the east coast art community that ranged from New York to Washington, D. C.

His contemporary and fellow Indian painter, John Mix Stanley, knew Miller well and they enjoyed a healthy competitive relationship.  The success of Miller’s iconic Trapper’s Bride that was exhibited alongside Stanley’s painting of the Southwestern Indian, Black Knife, at the Metropolitan Mechanics Institute in Washington in 1853, influenced Stanley to take up similar themes in his work.

The renowned landscape painter of the West, Albert Bierstadt, had a similar experience.  When he returned to America from two years of study abroad in 1857, he was searching for an artistic subject that would be relatively unique, something unexplored by his New York colleagues.  Miller provided that inspiration.  Bierstadt would have read, for example, a special article on Miller’s travels and artwork in  art magazine of the day, The Crayon, and been enthralled by Miller’s adventure.  Within months of reading about Miller, Bierstadt was on his way west for the first time in the summer of 1859. Bierstadt retraced Miller’s route exactly and, like Miller, became enamored with Native people of the Northern Plains and Rockies. A large exhibition on Bierstadt’s profound debt to Miller and others opens at the Center of the West in Cody this month.