Richard E. Miller’s Tea-Time, an elegant and sumptuous work, exemplifies the artist’s celebrated, luminous images of young women in luxurious interiors that often open to gardens. A decorative painting in the Impressionist style, Tea-Time demonstrates Miller’s mastery of brushwork and color to produce a richly textured canvas. Miller executed this work around 1914 while living in the French countryside with a circle of American painters, called the Giverny Group.
Miller’s status as a painter flourished after 1910 through his association in Giverny with artists such as Frederick Frieseke, Lawton Parker and Guy Rose. During the time he spent with his cohort of American artists in France, Miller explored and expanded his technique and palette. He moved away from more traditional brown tones and into the adventurous greens and purples seen in Tea-Time. In this period of his career, Miller "came into his own as a painter. Combining virtuosic brushwork and highly individual coloring with the subject he painted now almost exclusively--young women, singly or in pairs, in interiors." (M.L. Kane, A Bright Oasis: The Paintings of Richard E Miller, New York, 1997, p. 30)
Tea-Time is representative of the type of Impressionist painting Miller created in Giverny in the early twentieth century, which reflects his belief that "art's mission is not literary, the telling of a story, but decorative, the conveying of a pleasant optical sensation." (R. Zellman, American Art Analog, New York, 1986, p. 764) The intimate portrait shows a pensive, serene young woman seated near a window that opens out towards a sun filled garden. The textures and colors inside the room glow from the warm light that filters in through the shutters on either side of the window and the yellow parasol. Miller’s Impressionist style is evident in his brushwork which rhythmically stipples and textures the canvas with color. The graceful woman is adorned with delicate, richly colored fabrics that reflect the color and texture of the garden outside, bringing a sense of balance and order to the canvas.
Like his colleagues, Miller rigorously pursued artistic experimentation with color and brushwork. However, because of the influence of his formal academic training, which was traditional and conservative, Miller had a style distinct from other Impressionist artists. Critics and historians have noted his uniquely lower toned palette, a fact which prompted artist Guy Pène du Bois to describe Miller’s works as “soft and yet brilliant, delicate and yet with a semblance of radicalism…a lesson in compromise.” (A Bright Oasis: The Paintings of Richard E Miller, p. 33) This idea of a compromise is entrenched in his painting Tea-Time, in which Miller achieves balance through his use of contrasts, such as shadow and light, cool and warm colors, indoor and outdoor settings, and realistic and decorative representations.
While the Impressionist works of Miller and Frederick Frieseke, a fellow impressionist in Giverny, are closely associated, Miller had a more gradual conversion to the French style than did his compatriot. Miller's mode of "Decorative Impressionism" evidences "a conscious concern for patterning and an emphasis on the two-dimensional surface that went beyond traditional Impressionism. Like Frieseke, Miller's preferred subject matter was consistently the female figure, nude or clothed, most often placed in an intimate, luxurious interior. Even when Miller's boudoir or landscape backgrounds are enlivened with voluptuous color and loose brushwork, his treatment of the figure remains firm and classically drawn." (Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, Lasting Impressions: American Painters in France, Chicago, Illinois, 1992, p. 195)
As Miller turned to stronger and more adventurous colors, he intensified the reflection of these colors on his figures' skin, creating a highly artificial, decorative surface while maintaining traditional figuration. Although Tea-Time is representational, the emphasis on color, texture and light reveals Miller's Modernist interest in structure over subject. Miller plays with paint in Tea-Time to create a dazzling and textured surface rather than purely descriptive forms. The sheen of the green neckline of the dress highlights and colors the woman’s neck, while the yellow tones of the parasol cast a golden glow on her face. Although the painting has detailed elements, such as the woman’s contemplative face and delicate hands, the canvas is primarily composed of visible strokes and patches of paint that leave “floating flecks of color, many independent of literal description.” (A Bright Oasis: The Paintings of Richard E Miller, p. 33)
Tea-Time, composed with deftly handled brushwork and rich colors, combines Miller’s traditional training with his progressive interest in the Impressionist style to form a balanced composition. The airy, verdant garden outside and the female figure in the sun-dappled room come together to form an intimate and idyllic scene that is both serenely composed and highly decorative. This work exudes grace, beauty and warmth, embodying the full vision of the lively Impressionist style Miller developed in Giverny.