Alfred Jacob Miller: Self Portrait

Alfred Jacob Miller: Self-Portrait
Oil on canvas
The Walters Art Gallery, 37.2556 Gift of Mrs. L. Vernon Miller

A Baltimore Watchman

An Exhibition of Drawings by Alfred Jacob Miller

Government House, Annapolis, Maryland January 5 - July 4, 1996

WELCOME by Frances Hughes Glendening

Art provides sustenance for the soul and helps us appreciate how extraordinary the ordinary occurrences of life are after all. As a tribute to Maryland's rich artistic history, Government House will feature various displays of artwork from noteworthy collections throughout our state.

It is a special pleasure to welcome Marylanders to this first exhibition of drawings by one of our state's premier nineteenth-century artists, Alfred Jacob Miller. The exhibition's title,A Baltimore Watchman, is taken from one of Miller's works. It aptly characterizes the artist who captured the world in drawings from the perspective of a young person and later as an adult in Baltimore.

Government House will feature two series of Miller's drawings over the next six months. All of Miller's work exemplifies life in Baltimore during the mid-to-late nineteenth century as well as his interest in popular literature and theater. By viewing his observations of this bygone era, perhaps we all will reflect on our own environment and the daily life scenes of which we are a part.

We greatly appreciate the efforts of Gary Vikan, Director of the Walters Art Gallery, and William R. Johnston, the Associate Director, in bringing this wonderful collection to Government House. Thanks also to the staff of the Maryland State Archives for their help in organizing the exhibition and preparing the accompanying brochure.

We hope you will return to Government House to participate in our continuing celebration of Maryland's rich artistic history. Each future exhibit promises to be as interesting and uplifting as the last.


Miller's own inscriptions for the individual drawings are in italics.

January 5 - April 4

Baltimore Scenes

[a drawing of Jack C. and the Market House Loafer]1. Jack C. and the Market House Loafer [1825] 37.2468.47

[a drawing of Woolferz Cutter] 2. Recollections, Woolferz Cutter [1825] 37.2468.26

3. Now, Doctor,--do please tell me in plain terms what is the matter?--Why you see, my dear Madam, there is a concatenation of pyrosis, cardialgia & gastrodymia...

4. Oh clo' - oh clo', Look here my friend--What's the reason you cannot say "Old Clothes?" "Sir--I can say Old Clothes as well as you can--but if you had to repeat it as often as I you would say Oh Clo' too."

5. Quaker gent--"My dear friends--I think in thy song, I heard the expressions of "Home Sweet Home" & that there was no place like Home"--"Truly--Friends I agree with Thee & now advise Thee to go Home."

6. "Well drat that cat"

7. Pater Familias is overcome by the heat of the weather

8. A Baltimore Watchman

Literary Subjects

9. Bibliomaniac with an "Elzivir" in his hand (the Elzevirs were famous Dutch seventeenth-century printers)

[a drawing receiving Strop being hit on the head by a flower pot dropped from a window above him]10. Jacques Strop receiving a bouquet (a scene from Benjamin Antier's melodrama Auberge des Adrets first produced in Paris in 1823) 37.2468.22

11. "Mr. Merdle stands in awe of his chief butler and takes his tea behind the door..." (scene from Charles Dickens' novel of 1855-1857, Little Dorritt)

12. Sairey Gamp and Mr. Mould (Sairey Gamp is the disreputable nurse in Charles Dickens' novel of 1844, The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit)

13. The Marchioness (scene from Charles Dickens' novel of 1841, The Old Curiosity Shop)

[Drawing of Rip Van Winkle's wife driving off his dog Wolf]14. Rip Van Winkle (Rip Van Winkle's wife drives off his dog Wolf in Washington Irving's Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.) 37.2468.40

15. Prince Charles Edward (Bonnie Prince Charlie disguised as a maid escapes to the Island of Sky, from James Boswell's The Journal of a Tour to The Hebrides with Samuel Johnson L.L.D.[1785])

16. Sairey Gamp and Betsy Prig (nurses in The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit, Dickens' novel of 1844)

April 4 - July 4

Baltimore Scenes

1. Women's Rights (satirical)

2. Hans the German

[a drawing of Mr. Croesus looking at his newly built mansion]3. A Struggle for Happiness! Mr. Croesus builds himself a splendid mansion which brings nothing but vexations and expenses -- in short, he becomes a servant to his servant 37.2510.21

4. Baltimore Theater Scene

5. A Drunken Sailor

[a drawing of Bill Sykes standing in a doorway during a rainstorm]6. Fashionable Intelligence, Bill Sykes stands up, out of the rain (a Baltimore market scene) 37.2468.12

7. He has lost his ticket for the opera

[a drawing of a woman washing steps]8. Washing Steps 37.2468.18


[a drawing of a little girl playing with a puppy]9. Playmates 37.2468.50

[a drawing of two boys knocking hard-boiled eggs together]10. A disposition to "pick-foul" (two boys knock hard-boiled eggs together--the one whose egg remains intact is the winner) 37.2468.28

11. Street Scene, Boy Gallantry

12. Sam(a boy suffers the ill-effects of smoking)

13. The Two Friends

14. Youth

[a drawing of a woman with a baby in a stroller with an admiring audience of people]15. The Real Master of the House... 37.2510.14

16. Don with his Wild Team

Recollections of a Maryland Artist: Alfred Jacob Miller
by William Johnston, Associate Director
The Walters Art Gallery

Although he is usually remembered for his paintings recording a fur-trading expedition to the American West in 1837, Alfred Jacob Miller (1810-1874) was the principal artist of Maryland in the mid-nineteenth century. As early as 1831, an English visitor to Baltimore, recognizing Miller's promise, predicted that the twenty-one year old aspiring artist would become "an ornament to his native city if given the opportunity to train abroad."

Two years later, apparently heeding this advice, Miller embarked for Europe to study in Paris, Florence, and Rome. Once he had returned from his various European travels and settled permanently in Baltimore in 1842, Miller pursued a successful career selling copies of the Old Masters paintings in European museums, portraits of local citizens, and views of the American West.

Drawing was an aspect of his art that Miller shared only with close friends. An inveterate draughtsman, he produced hundreds of sketches which he compiled in scrapbooks. Usually he identified the subjects with captions written on separate scraps of paper pasted next to each work.

Although apparently intended for his own enjoyment these drawings, for the most part satirical, provide a unique insight into mid-nineteenth century popular culture. Many of them recall humorous childhood incidents and characters from the 1820s when the Miller family divided its time between a townhouse near Baltimore's harbor and market and a farm down the Patapsco River on Hawkin's Point.

Miller's humor tended to be robust rather than sophisticated; he frequently employed dialect in the captions and showed stock characters -- German immigrants and inebriated sailors frequently occur. He was also an avid illustrator and was fully conversant with popular literature, particularly with the works of Charles Dickens, Sir Walter Scott, James Boswell and Shakespeare. Altogether, Miller assembled fourteen scrapbooks of sketches rendered in ink, sepia and occasionally watercolor. All of the scrapbooks were subsequently dismembered and the drawings dispersed. This exhibition features the contents of one of these scrapbooks presented to the Walters Art Gallery by Mr. and Mrs. J. William Middendorf, II in 1970-1971.

Prepared by: The Maryland Commission on Artistic Property
Maryland State Archives, Annapolis, Maryland

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