Editor's note: The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art provided source material to Resource Library for the following article or essay. If you have questions or comments regarding the source material, please contact the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art directly through either this phone number or web address:


 Romancing the West: Alfred Jacob Miller in the Bank of America Collection

September 25, 2010 - January 9, 2011


Vibrant and masterful mixed media works on paper by the artist Alfred Jacob Miller, depicting the American West inspired by a six-month expedition in 1837, are on view in Romancing the West: Alfred Jacob Miller in the Bank of America Collection, an exhibition that opened this fall at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo., then travels to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2011. (right: Alfred Jacob Miller (1810-1874), War Path, Oil and glazes over graphite, ink and possibly watercolor on cream wove paper, 9 x 12 1/4 inches. Bank of America Collection. Photo credit: John Lamberton)

Baltimore native Alfred Jacob Miller (1810-1874) was one of the first American artists to paint the "Far West," considered at the time as exotic and distant by people living in the East. Bank of America's 30 sheets, which have not been on view to the public since 1964, feature poetic images of the stunning landscape of early America, the daily life of Native Americans and mountain men, and the exotic wildlife and fauna he observed.

Miller traveled in 1837 with an American Fur Company expedition at the invitation of Scotsman Capt. William Drummond Stewart. The group left in April 1837 from St. Louis and followed what would become the Oregon Trail, then traveled by way of the Green River to Wyoming's Wind River Mountains.

Miller made more than 100 field sketches during the expedition, and his adventure became the inspiration for at least a thousand paintings and watercolors. For nearly three decades, he received commissions for albums of watercolors and full-sized oil paintings that he produced in his studio. These works from the Bank of America Collection represent intermediary work based on his field sketches and in preparation for works commissioned by patrons.

 "We are thrilled to share Miller's work with the general public," said Margaret C. Conrads, Samuel Sosland Senior Curator, American Art, at the Nelson-Atkins and curator of the exhibition. "Viewers will find that fact mixes with fantasy to reflect life on the frontier both as it was and as it was imagined to be." (left: Alfred Jacob Miller (1810-1874), Trappers, August & Louis, Black, gray, and brown ink and wash, white and yellow gouache, and graphite on brown laid paper, 9 5/16 x 7 13/16 inches. Bank of America Collection. Photo credit: John Lamberton)

The exhibition has given curators an opportunity to study Miller's technique, his view of the West, his broader connection to European and American art, and the importance of his art in a larger context.

This exhibition is organized by The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and is part of Bank of America's Art in our CommunitiesTM program. Additional support is provided by the Campbell-Calvin Fund and Elizabeth C. Bonner Charitable Trust for exhibitions.

"Bank of America is committed to strengthening artistic institutions and in turn, the communities we serve,"said Spence Heddens, Kansas City Market President, Bank of America. "Sharing our collection with the public through partners such as the Nelson-Atkins not only makes business sense for the bank, but also helps support one of Kansas City's finest local cultural anchors."  

Through its Art in our Communities program, Bank of America has transformed its collection into a unique community resource from which museums and nonprofit galleries may borrow complete exhibitions.  By providing these exhibitions and the support required to host them, this program helps sustain community engagement and generate vital revenue for the nonprofits, creating stability in local communities.  By the end of 2011, Bank of America will have loaned more than 40 exhibitions to museums worldwide.



A catalogue that accompanies the exhibition includes scholarship by Conrads; Stephanie Knappe, Assistant Curator, American Art, at the Nelson-Atkins; Lisa Strong, an independent Miller scholar; William H. Truettner, Senior Curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum; and Kathleen A. Foster, the Robert L. McNeil, Jr., Senior Curator of American Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Nancy Heugh, a paper conservator, also conducted technical analysis of Miller's work.



Exhibition dates are: the Nelson-Atkins, Sept. 25, 2010 - Jan. 9, 2011; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Feb. 13 - May 8, 2011; and the Philadelphia Museum, June 4 - Sept. 18, 2011. 


Selected public programs

Invention and Recollection, A Journey with Watercolor
Sunday, September 26, 2-3 p.m.
Atkins Auditorium | Free
Join Kansas City-based watercolor artist Craig Lueck for a demonstration and discussion on the evolution, versatility and personal rewards of watercolor painting. Lueck's insights and interests in artists like Alfred Jacob Miller stem from his travels, studies at the American Academy of Art in Chicago and years with Hallmark Cards.
The "Real" Frontier: The American West in the National Imagination
Sunday, October 10, 2-4 p.m.
Atkins Auditorium | Free
John Herron, Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City, explores how early images of the West influenced Hollywood. Film clips will highlight America's romance with the West and its allure for artists and filmmakers.
The Curator is IN! Western Visions
Friday, October 22, 7-8 p.m.
Gallery 218 | Free
Curator Stephanie Knappe will discuss various ways artists featured in the American Art galleries depict the West.
Finding the West in American Art
Friday, December 3, 7-8 p.m.
Atkins Auditorium | Free
Carol Clark, William McCall Vickery 1957 Professor of the History of Art and American Studies, Amherst College, will talk about the changing character of the American art we call "Western."


Additional information

In early 1837, Alfred Jacob Miller (1810-1874), a Baltimore artist working in New Orleans, traveled with an expedition to the Rocky Mountains and the annual gathering of the fur trade. Miller spent six months in the West, and his experiences supplied the raw material for his art for the rest of his career.
The 30 works on paper in this exhibition, not seen in public since 1964, are mainly intermediary steps in Miller's process of art-making from field sketches to commissioned finished works.
Miller depicted American Indians and mountain men, wildlife, and the western landscape in various media, but mostly in watercolor. Far more than just laying out Miller's preferred subjects, this exhibition explores the artist's patrons, methods, and ideas of his art. It also encourages us to reconsider our own understandings of the West, past and present.
Making the West
In the 19th century, many artists favored watercolor for sketching because it was portable and produced a sense of immediacy that implied authenticity. It was also considered ideal for conveying the Romantic impulse to express a personal encounter with nature. Thus, it perfectly suited Miller's desire to infuse his art with equal doses of that spirit and actual experience. Although watercolor was Miller's primary medium for his pictures on paper, his sheets often feature unorthodox combinations of watercolor, gouache, pencil, ink, oil and glazes.

Miller's West
The West Miller painted included a unique blend of imagined scenes with actual people, places and events. Miller rarely pictured conflicts among tribes or between Indians and whites. Instead, he depicted pioneering accounts of wilderness enterprise where everyone garnered a livelihood from nature, and cross-cultural exchange was harmonious. Miller's favorite themes supported a Romantic view of the West as a fabled land where men could be self-reliant, authentic and free.
Acquiring the West
Most of Miller's work was commissioned by businessmen who saw in his images their idea of the West as an American symbol and the premier area for commercial expansion. Miller's small-scaled art was created for private viewing. Single sheets were gathered in book-like albums, which encouraged a sense of shared experience. Miller used many of the works in the exhibition as aids in creating final compositions for albums and to attract patrons.
Influences beyond the West
Miller headed West already familiar with historic and contemporary art. Although his trip provided the foundation for his subjects, he combined his knowledge of different techniques, compositional strategies and styles with on-the-trail observations. Miller benefited from stateside training, studied the Old Masters, Romantic art and the British watercolor tradition, and was inspired by albums of images by artist/explorers who preceded him in the West.

(above: Alfred Jacob Miller (1810-1874), Attrapez des Chevaux, Watercolor, gouache, and pencil, with ink and gum glazes on beige wove paper, 8 3/16 x 12 3/8 inches. Bank of America Collection. Photo credit: John Lamberton)


Editors note: RL readers may also enjoy:

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Resource Library.

Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

Copyright 2010 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.