Richard E. Miller's sumptuous images of young women in a studio interior are celebrated as some of the finest achievements of American Impressionism. Miller is most often associated with the Giverny Group, a cluster of ambitious painters living in France in the early twentieth century, who sought inspiration and kinship in the small town near Paris. It was in Giverny that he painted String Artist, where he was inspired to create some of his most successful compositions.
Although all of the artists in the small town of Giverny knew each other, or were at least aware of each other, Miller's work is quite distinct from that of his contemporaries. Critics and historians have noted Miller's unique palette for "being 'in a rather lower tone of color,' for which he was no doubt deemed 'the Whistler of the quartet' - it prompted Pene du Bois to say of it, 'soft and yet brilliant, delicate and yet with a semblance of radicalism a lesson in compromise - a delightful lesson.' The 'compromise' referred to is obviously Miller's mixing academic and impressionist painting modes. Miller blends them harmoniously in the creation of a decorative, dreamlike atmosphere. He covered the canvas with small dabs, broad strokes, scraped patches, dry swags and floating flecks of color, many independent of literal description." (M.L. Kane, A Bright Oasis, The Paintings of Richard E. Miller, New York, 1997, p. 33)
As an artist, Miller was distinguished by his sheer facility for capturing the human figure. "About 1904 Miller turned to decorative compositions of young women in robes at their dressing tables, having previously concentrated on figures of older women. Such compositions were painted, initially at least, in Paris; he may have turned to outdoor work when he started to summer in Giverny about 1906. There Miller adopted many of the subjects for which Frieseke became renowned -- women in sunlit interiors, garden scenes, and the nude. But although he and Frieseke were frequently paired in critical assessments and their work was often shown together, Miller almost always stressed drawing and structure more than his colleague. The models he chose were quite distinct from Frieseke's, more poignant and lovely, less in the Renoir mode. Miller seems to have been less eager than Frieseke to portray his figures out of doors, often posing them instead on a sunlit porch or veranda Miller's work, like that of his Giverny associates, was regarded as sensuously ornamental; he himself declared to a student, 'Art's mission is not literary, the telling of a story, but decorative, the conveying of a pleasant optical sensation.'" (W.H. Gerdts, Monet's Giverny, An Impressionist Colony, p. 184)
String Artist is a masterpiece of the type of Impressionist paintings created in Giverny in the early twentieth century. In this work, Miller has faithfully incorporated every hallmark of the style. Miller typically chose a perspective in his studio from which he could not only paint his model, but also feature a corner of his sunny garden. The small town of Giverny was renowned for its lush setting and fertile gardens, the most famous of which belonged to the French Impressionist Claude Monet. Eager to include this delightful attribute, Miller integrates a small slice of his sunny garden to this interior scene, and invigorates the composition by bringing his lush garden, filled with irises and green grass into the room. Dressed in a sumptuous white dress, and wrapped in a colorful kimono, Miller's beautiful young model reclines on a loveseat. His subject looks seductively at the viewer. The parasol, a much-loved accessory of the Giverny Group, is also included in the composition.
Indeed, String Artist is a brilliant example of impressionism that is "not a tardy or punched-up imitation of the original style, but reflects a vigorous post-impressionist interest in surface and design. Instead of exploring reality, the [works are] visions of beauty based as much on the means and method of creation as on subject." (A Bright Oasis, The Paintings of Richard E. Miller, p. 33)