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MFA Houston Presents Romancing the West: Alfred Jacob Miller in February 2011

Indian Boys (Children of the Snake Tribe) by Alfred Jacob Miller, not dated

Indian Boys (Children of the Snake Tribe) by Alfred Jacob Miller, not dated

Romancing the West: Alfred Jacob Miller in the Bank of America Collection
Museum of Fine Art, Houston
Opens February 13, 2011

Vibrant Watercolors of the Early American West by Alfred Jacob Miller Presented to Public for First Time in Nearly Fifty Years on National Tour

A six-month journey to the Rocky Mountains in 1837 provided artist Alfred Jacob Miller (1810–1874) with a lifetime of subjects to paint: mountain men in the fur trade, Native American life and traditions, panoramic landscapes and wilderness scenes. These subjects will be revealed in an exhibition of 30 works on paper by the artist not seen in public since 1964: Romancing the West: Alfred Jacob Miller in the Bank of America Collection. The exhibition opens on February 13, 2010, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, then travels to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Baltimore native Alfred Jacob Miller was one of the first American artists to paint the “Far West,” still considered exotic, distant, and unfamiliar at the time by people living in the eastern United States and in Europe. Miller moved his Baltimore art studio to New Orleans, where a chance encounter with the Scotsman adventurer Sir William Drummond Stewart determined the course of his future career as a painter of the American West. Stewart invited Miller to accompany him on a journey from Missouri to the Rocky Mountains of presentday Wyoming. In 1837, they departed St. Louis and joined with the American Fur Company caravan to travel west by way of the North Fork of the Platte River, then along the Sweetwater River and west up into the South Pass and thence to Wyoming’s Wind River Mountains. They witnessed the annual gathering of the fur trade, where goods would be exchanged for pelts. Miller’s job was to record the trip on behalf of Stewart.

This journey profoundly impressed Miller, who produced more than 100 sketches during the trip, many of which he later reworked as watercolors or paintings for Stewart. These works depict the early days of westward expansion in lyrical and spirited watercolors that capture the rough terrain, the majestic Rockies, abundant wildlife, and the mixed cultures that populated the West.

For nearly three decades, Miller received commissions for albums of watercolors and full-sized oil paintings that he produced in his studio based on these original 1837 sketches. The works from the Bank of America Collection are watercolors based on his field sketches and appear in various stages of completion. The works are undated but span more than 30 years and demonstrate the variety of unorthodox techniques that Miller employed in portraying the subject at hand. The exhibition has given curators and conservators an opportunity to study Miller’s technique, his romanticized perspective on the West, and his broader connection to European and American art.

“This jewel-like exhibition presents outstanding watercolors based on Miller’s western adventures,” said Gwendolyn H. Goffe, MFAH Interim Director. “Miller, who is not yet represented in the MFAH’s permanent collection, may be seen in a variety of contexts that complement the MFAH’s collection: the explosion of interest in landscape painting at the time; the growing interest in art of the American West from the point of view of science, industry, and western expansion; and the development of themes that would culminate in the later and dramatic work of Frederic Remington, who is brilliantly represented in the MFAH collection. This stop in the south on the national tour of Romancing the West holds special significance because Miller depicts something many Houstonians have a great appreciation for: the mythical and rugged American West.”

“It is a pleasure to share Miller’s work with the general public,” commented Dr. Emily Ballew Neff, Curator of American art at MFAH, and organizing curator of the show in Houston.

“Viewers will find that fact mixes with fantasy in these exquisite watercolors that reflect life on the frontier both as it was and as it was imagined to be. Miller’s extraordinary technique, developed to convey the lyricism and the dramatic energy he perceived in the West, will be a pleasure and a surprise to those especially interested in the art of watercolor and its expressive possibilities. ”

This exhibition is organized by The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and is made possible by Bank of America, through their Art in our CommunitiesTM program. Generous funding is provided by The Brown Foundation, Inc. and Jeff Fort and Marion Barthelme.

“Bank of America is committed to strengthening artistic institutions and in turn, the communities we serve,” said Kim Ruth, Houston Market President, Bank of America. “Sharing our collection with the public through partners such as the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston not only makes business sense for the bank, but also helps support one of Houston’s finest local cultural anchors.”

Through its Art in our CommunitiesTM program, Bank of America has transformed its collection into a unique community resource from which museums and nonprofit galleries may borrow complete exhibitions. By providing these exhibitions and the support required to host them, this program helps sustain community engagement and generate vital revenue for the nonprofits, creating stability in local communities. By the end of 2011, Bank of America will have loaned more than 40 exhibitions to museums worldwide.


A fully illustrated exhibition catalogue accompanies the exhibition and includes scholarship by Margaret C. Conrads, Samuel Sosland Senior Curator, American Art, at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art; Lisa Strong, an independent Miller scholar; William H. Truettner, Senior Curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum; and Kathleen A. Foster, the Robert L. McNeil, Jr., Senior Curator of American Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Nancy Heugh, a paper conservator, also conducted technical analysis of Miller’s work.

Programming Highlights

Saturday, March 26, 2011:

  • Teacher Workshop: Native Americans and the American West: Teacher Workshops introduce new ways of thinking about the curriculum and innovative teaching approaches through the exploration of the museum’s permanent collections and temporary exhibitions.

Sunday, March 27, 2011:

  • Creation Station: Romancing the West: Alfred Jacob Miller in the Bank of America Collection. Creation Stations are art-making workshops for the whole family. Each Creation Station art project is inspired by a work of art on view. Sketching in the Galleries: Open to adults and children of all drawing levels. Guided by an MFAH teaching artist, drop-in visitors explore and sketch in the galleries — discovering art from the museum’s permanent collections and temporary exhibitions.
  • Sunday Storytime: Families will make connections between a storybook and a work of art in the museum’s permanent collection. Looking games and opportunities to share are part of this 30-minute experience in the galleries.
  • Gallery Investigations: At this interactive gallery experience, families uncover details and insights about art. An MFAH educator at our Gallery Cart will present looking games, books, and hands-on activities that families can use to investigate works of art from around the world.

Bank of America and the Arts

As one of the world’s largest financial institutions and a major supporter of arts and culture, Bank of America has a vested interest and plays a meaningful role in the international dialogue on cultural understanding. As a global company, Bank of America demonstrates its commitment to the arts by supporting such efforts as after-school arts programs, grants to help expand libraries, programs to conserve artistic heritage as well as a campaign to encourage museum attendance. Bank of America’s unique program, offers customers free access to more than 120 of the nation’s finest cultural institutions through its acclaimed Museums on Us® program, while Art in our CommunitiesTM shares exhibits from the company’s corporate collection with communities across the country though local museum partners. The Bank of American Charitable Foundation also provides philanthropic support to museums, theaters and other arts-related nonprofits to expand their services and offerings to schools and communities. Bank of America partners with more than 6,000 art institutions worldwide.


This exhibition is organized by The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and is made possible by the Bank of America Art in our Communities program. Generous funding is provided in Houston by The Brown Foundation, Inc. and Jeff Fort and Marion Barthelme.

Upcoming Exhibitions at the MFAH

  • Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art February 20-May 23, 2011
  • Heinrich Kühn March 6-May 30, 2011
  • Neoclassicism: A Taste for the Antique, 1730–1790 March 20-May 30, 2011
  • Picturing the Senses in European Art, April 10-July 17, 2011
  • Charles LeDray: workworkworkworkwork May 15-September 11, 2011
  • Titian and the Golden Age of Venetian Painting: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland May 22-August 14, 2011
  • Helmut Newton: White Women • Sleepless Nights • Big Nudes July 3-September 25, 2011

MFAH Collections

Founded in 1900, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is the largest art museum in America south of Chicago, west of Washington, D.C., and east of Los Angeles. The encyclopedic collection of the MFAH numbers over 62,170 works and embraces the art of antiquity to the present. Featured are the finest artistic examples of the major civilizations of Europe, Asia, North and South America, and Africa. Italian Renaissance paintings, French Impressionist works, photographs, American and European decorative arts, African and Pre-Columbian gold, American art, and European and American paintings and sculpture from post-1945 are particularly strong holdings. Recent additions to the collections include Rembrandt van Rijn’s Portrait of a Young Woman (1633), the Heiting Collection of Photography, a major suite of Gerhard Richter paintings, an array of important works by Jasper Johns, a rare, second-century Hellenistic bronze Head of Poseidon/Antigonos Doson, major canvases by 19th-century painters Gustave Courbet and J.M.W. Turner, Albert Bierstadt’s Indians Spear Fishing (1862), distinguished work by the leading 20th- and 21st-century artists from Latin America, and The Adolpho Leirner Collection of Brazilian Constructive Art.

Indian Boys (Children of the Snake Tribe) by Alfred Jacob Miller, not dated

Indian Boys (Children of the Snake Tribe) by Alfred Jacob Miller, not dated

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