Born in Missouri, Richard E. Miller studied at the St. Louis School of Fine Arts before continuing his training in France in 1889. He quickly made his reputation when one of his large portraits was accepted into the Paris Salon in 1900. An accomplished figure painter, Miller's style changed dramatically during his fifteen-year stay in France, emerging from dark, realist portraits of elderly subjects to fresh, light-filled Impressionist images of young women. It is for these latter canvases that Miller is celebrated, and within that category, his Giverny paintings are certainly his finest.
Miller probably first visited Giverny in 1905, the year his good friend and colleague Frederick Carl Frieseke leased a house adjacent to Monet's property. In 1906 Miller was giving summer art instruction in Giverny to female students of American educator Mary C. Wheeler, who would return repeatedly to Giverny with her students, and who also rented a house next to Monet. In the mornings Miller and his students worked indoors with the model, and in the afternoon they sketched outdoors. In 1907 Miller married one of Miss Wheeler's students, Henriette Adams, known as Billee. In June, 1909, their daughter was born in Giverny. By this time Miller had been made a Knight of the Legion of Honor by the French government for his work. Miller and his family summered in Giverny until 1912.
While the Impressionist works of Miller and Frieseke are closely associated, Miller had a more gradual conversion to the French style than did his colleague. 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 of clothes, 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)
In the Garden is a brilliant example of Miller's celebrated Giverny style. The young woman is seated in a garden alcove, thoughtfully contemplating her book and the landscape around her. In contrast to the smooth rendering of the figure's neck and shoulders and the bravura brushwork in her dress, the garden is a flat plane of vivid color, a tapestry of short, dense Impressionist strokes. Miller is able to combine strong draftsmanship, lively color and bold design to create a picture that captures both impressionist and modern elements harmoniously. The composition is cropped on the left, creating a sense of intimacy and enclosure. "This is plein air painting, but there is a cloistered atmosphere; the woman is confined to a beautiful but limited world." (Lasting Impressions: American Painters in France, p. 195) In the Garden is a truly sensuous painting-a rich mix of color, textures, and light-deserving of the adjectives "radiant" and "jubliant" that critics bestowed on Miller's Giverny paintings.