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Study of Plums by Franklin Harrison Miller

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In this rare, signed study titled "A Study in Plums," Franklin Harrison Miller exhibits his talent for capturing a bounty of fruit set in a lush, natural landscape, with contrasting textures of grass, earth, and twigs. A cluster of plums rests on a grassy bed, with skin hues of ruby, gold, and orange contrasting against a verdant backdrop of loosely defined foliage.

This study may have been done in preparation for a completed painting, or perhaps as an idea for a piece the artist was contemplating. The focus of the composition is on the fruit and the interplay of light and dark, a painting technique called chiaroscuro. In this piece, Miller may also have been exploring texture, color schemes, or perspective. It was not intended as a finished work.

This study was among the contents of Miller’s studio left at his death and provides a unique glimpse into the artist’s creative process.


  • In memory of Joan L. Borden, the gift of her husband.

Details of Painting

  • Artist : Franklin Harrison Miller
  • Artist Dates : 1843-1911
  • Genre : Still Life
  • Year : Undated
  • Material : Oil on Canvas
  • Dimension : 14" x 12"
  • Object ID# : 2021.31.2

About the Artist

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Franklin Harrison Miller

Fall River, Massachusetts

Franklin Harrison Miller (American, 1843-1911), an artist best known for his still life and landscape paintings, was born in Fall River, Massachusetts, and was a life-long resident of the city.

Miller was the son of a prominent Fall River building contractor and investor, esteemed as one of the city’s leading citizens; he breathed his first and last in the family home on Second Street. Of his youth and formal education little is known, but his was clearly a privileged upbringing. He counted among his friends the scion of the city’s oldest families, among them Bradford Matthew Chaloner Durfee (1843-1872), sole heir to Fall River’s largest textile fortune. Miller travelled with Durfee to Europe in the early 1860s, visiting England, Switzerland, and France. The two friends spent about two years living in Paris, during which the young artist studied painting and “worked hard in the galleries.”

A wealthy father ensured that Miller – Frank to his friends – was never the victim of the financial hardships endured by many artists. Of him, it was said: “Having plenty of the world’s goods, he was not forced to exert himself, but he was a steady worker and turned out many pictures.” In fact, he was a serious artist and became a master of the distinctly American school of landscape painting that developed in the last half of the nineteenth century.

It is believed that his first art studies came under the tutelage of Robert Spear Dunning (1829-1905), Fall River’s preeminent still life artist and the founder of the Fall River School. The two artists were life-long friends and shared a large studio in the grand Borden Block building on South Main Street, in the heart of the city’s busy downtown. Their space was located on the third floor in the northeast corner of the structure and was separated only by a curtain that was rarely drawn; it was a mecca for local artists and patrons who habitually gathered there. In addition, Miller maintained a home studio. The two men also taught freehand drawing at the Fall River Evening Drawing School.

Dunning’s portrait of Miller, painted in their shared studio in 1879, is a stellar example of the artist’s work; a depiction of a very close friend, it has an intimate quality not evident in Dunning’s many commissioned portraits of Fall River grandees. The painting descended in the Miller family and now hangs in the collection of the Fall River Historical Society.

Miller holds the distinction of being the only artist of the Fall River School to benefit from European study, but it is unknown at which Académie or in whose atelier he studied while in Paris. In the United States, he was a student of Benjamin Champney (1817-1907), a noted painter of White Mountain landscapes, and studied with the brilliant artist, George Inness (1825-1894), often referred to as the “father of American landscape painting.” Both artists had a strong impact on his work.

Miller had established his first studio in Fall River by 1866 and was never without one for the remainder of his life. The artist worked in oil, watercolor, and charcoal, and among his output were still life, landscapes, marine paintings, and portraits.

His still life works featured fruit arranged on tabletops with heavily carved-edge moldings, indicative of Dunning and the Fall River School, and pieces set outdoors, with the fruit resting on a bed of grass or soil, and often tumbling from rustic baskets of chipwood or woven wicker.

Miller’s painting style was neither Realist nor Impressionist, and his works stood in sharp contrast to those produced by his Fall River contemporaries due to their painterliness, with loose brushstrokes and impasto lending an informal quality. This is especially evident and more pronounced in his mature works.

He specialized in landscapes: “Outdoor work was his forte.” Of his plein air work, one of his contemporaries – an artist, unfortunately unidentified – noted: “He was a landscape and marine painter and a very good one.” Miller traveled extensively throughout New England and Canada seeking inspiration for his work, habitually spending a few months each summer in “the wilds of Maine or Nova Scotia, to hear the songs of the birds and to catch the colors of the sea.”

His niece, Florence Gould Hathaway née Bowen (1875-1962), recalled frequenting Miller’s home studio as a child: “One day, while he was out, I decided to try my hand at painting, and as a result I ruined his work of many hours. My only punishment was that I was forbidden to make my daily call upon him.” The punishment could not have lasted very long because the Miller and Bowen families – Frank’s sister, Phoebe Vincent Bowen née Miller (1848-1907) was the wife of Dr. Seabury Warren Bowen (1840-1918) – resided together in the large double house on Second Street, the Bowens on the north, and the Millers on the south. The artist never married and, for recreation, played the violin.

Miller was decidedly reserved in disposition and preferred his paintings to speak for him. Often described as “a diffident man who had little to say,” he “was a very kindly, likeable man, once one came to know him, but to know him one had to seek him out.” Following Dunning’s death in 1905, he was awarded the distinction of being “the Dean of Local Artists.”

When Miller died in 1911 it was noted: “Most of his pictures were sold away from this city,” being “less appreciated locally than they were outside [the] area, in Rhode Island, New York, and Philadelphia.”

“As a painter, he ranked high,” stated one contemporary observer – a fine, tribute, as understated as the man.

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  • Due to a major infrastructure project, the FRHS Museum will be closed beginning July 22, 2023. The Musem Shop is closed until further notice.