Francis Davis Millet


Show Summary Details

Quick Reference


Painter. Also a writer. Best known for detailed genre scenes, often set in the historical past, he also painted murals and portraits and designed stained glass windows. As well, he intermittently worked professionally as a journalist, illustrator, and fiction writer. An inveterate traveler, he earned an international reputation and participated actively in the art affairs of Europe as well as the United States. Known informally as Frank, Millet was born in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, near New Bedford. As a toddler he moved with his family to East Bridgewater, about twenty-five miles south of Boston. He graduated from Harvard in 1869. During the next three years he earned a master's degree there in modern languages and literature, while also working for Boston newspapers and studying lithography. In the fall of 1871 he began two years of study at Antwerp's Royal Academy, where he earned impressive distinctions, and during the following winter he worked in Rome. He had traveled extensively in Europe by the time he returned home in 1875. After working as a journalist at Philadelphia's 1876 Centennial Exhibition, he assisted John La Farge in painting murals for Boston's Trinity Church. He departed in January 1877 for Paris but soon left to work as a war correspondent and illustrator during the Russo-Turkish conflict of 1877–78. Following another sojourn in Paris and a visit to London, he returned in 1879 to the Boston area. Subsequently he worked in New York for Louis Comfort Tiffany on decorative projects before heading again for Europe in 1881 to resume his peripatetic ways and varied activities. Three years later he first visited Broadway, Worcestershire, a Cotswold village where he was before long at the hub of an expatriate art colony that included Edwin Austin Abbey and John Singer Sargent. However Millet often wintered in New York, where until 1892 he maintained a residence. He never ceased traveling, ranging widely in Europe, North America, North Africa, and eventually, Asia. Between 1892 and about 1908 he completed a number of ambitious mural commissions in the United States. These became his chief interest after about 1900, when he virtually abandoned easel painting. He had recently been appointed director of the American Academy in Rome when he perished at sea in his evening clothes after the Titanic sank. Millet's characteristic genre scenes emphasize period decor over dramatic narrative. A close student of fashions and furnishings, he exploited the play of light to highlight picturesque details and unify his scenes, usually interiors. In historical pieces, he depicted early American, British, and classical subjects. Millet published several books and numerous articles, often illustrated with his own drawings. An eleven-week canoe trip down the Danube River in 1891 resulted in The Danube from the Black Forest to the Black Sea (1892). The Capillary Crime and Other Stories (1892) collects fictional pieces. After organizing artistic aspects of Chicago's 1893 world's fair, where he also painted several murals, he published Some Artists at the Fair (1893). He also coauthored, with the exhibition's architectural chief Daniel Burnham, World's Columbian Exposition (1894), a chronicle of the spectacle's inception and realization. Following an 1898 sojourn in Manila as a newspaper and magazine correspondent during the Spanish-American War, he published The Expedition to the Philippines (1899). As well, in 1887 he issued an English rendition of Tolstoy's Sebastopol, taken from a French translation.


Subjects: Art.

Reference entries

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.