William Rickarby Miller (1818-1893)
William Rickarby Miller was born in England in 1818. A portrait and landscape painter, he was especially appreciated for watercolor painting, which he sold through the American Art Union. Although he painted in the same locations as the Hudson River School painters, he is not considered a part of that group that strove for dramatic effect because his work is more intimate and story-telling in intent. He took his first art training from his father, Joseph, an animal and landscape painter. Miller practiced by sketching the townspeople. One of these portraits attracted the attention of an unknown patron who sent Miller to London to further his studies. By 1845 he emigrated to the United States, accompanied by a sister and two brothers. They first settled in Buffalo and within three years had permanently settled in New York City. After some difficulty launching a career, he received several commissions for watercolors through the American Art-Union. With a keen eye for detail, he frequently painted the upstate New York landscape, which he preferred, although he made his living through portraiture and illustration. He began to exhibit at the National Academy of Design between 1844 and 1845. As his career began to pick up around 1853, he completed his first book illustration assignment for G. P. Putnam and Company’s, “Homes of American Authors.” Such illustrated weeklies as Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion and Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper also began to carry his illustrations. From 1851 to 1862 Miller worked out of his home at 1 Perry Street and from 1868 to 1877 he lived in his studio in the Dodworth Building at 806 Broadway. Magazine assignments began to decline toward the latter part of the 1860s and Miller considered dropping his career and joining the M. Knoedler Company (once Goupil). However, his career as an artist was saved through the patronage of Henry W. Gear, an artists’ supplier, George M. Wing, an agent, and John L. Chambers, a secretary. Around 1873 he spent years organizing a book on American landscapes that he titled “A Thousand Gems,” but it was never published. However the drawings provided much of the material for his later work in oil. He was a disciplined worker and prolific painter who produced hundreds of watercolors, oils, and pen and ink sketches. The end of his life was tragic, because after separating from his wife and children in 1867, he led a somewhat secluded life, devoting his time to traveling and to sketching rural scenes. It is believed that he died on one such excursion during July 1893. His work can be found in the collection of the New York Historical Society.
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