BARSE MILLER (1904-1973)

"Block Island Lighthouse, Rhode Island"

"Block Island Lighthouse, Rhode Island"

22" x 30", Watercolor on Paper 20127

Barse Miller (1904-1973)

Barse Miller was born in New York in 1904, his father was an author, and his mother was an artist and they sent Barse to begin formal art instruction at the National Academy of Design while still in elementary school.  There he received instruction from Henry Snell. He continued his education with Hugh Breckenridge at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.  Both of these teachers were award winning watercolorists, and greatly helped the young artist develop.  At eighteen years of age he was awarded the Cresson Traveling Scholarship which enabled him to study and paint in Europe for two years.

In 1924, he moved to Los Angeles and settled.  The next year he began exhibiting with the California Art Club and by 1928, was an active member of the California Water Color Society, serving as its president in 1936, 1937, and 1938.  His watercolors from this era were quite different from most works being produced on the West Coast.  They often included cityscape subjects with people, automobiles and industrial objects.  As the new era of California watercolorists, led by Millard Sheets and Phil Dike, emerged in the early 1930s, they welcomed Miller into the movement and revered him as one of the leading figures.

During his period in California, Miller taught at the Chouinard Art Institute and, for ten years, at the Art Center School.  As a teacher of watercolor painting, he helped many of the most successful California watercolorists to understand the possibilities of this unique medium.  In later years, he also made special visits to the West Coast to teach at the Brandt-Dike Summer School of Painting and other watercolor workshops.

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, the watercolors of Barse Miller became increasingly popular, and his ability to manipulate wet-into-wet washes had a huge impact on many of his students and fellow artists.  His many years of formal art instruction gave him an advantage because of his knowledge of color and design, so when the California Group was being scrutinized in the 1930s, his work helped greatly to give the overall movement credibility.

During World War II, Miller went into the United States Army and became head of the Combat Art Section in the South Pacific.  He produced a number of watercolors and was awarded for his artistic contributions that visually documented the war in that region. After the war, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship and eventually settled in New York state. 

His watercolors after this period became increasingly modern, as he sought to relate to a changing art world. In addition to watercolor painting, he also exhibited oil paintings and produced a number of murals.

With his wife Betty, he had a son and two daughters. They resided in Plandome Manor, New York. Miller died on January 21, 1973 in Mexico, at age 68. His work is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Biography adapted from the CalArt biography and: Gordon T. McClelland and Jay T. Last, California Watercolors 1850-1970 Biographical information in this book is based on interview with Betty Miller, 1984 and interview with Rex Brandt, 1983

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