Kenneth Hayes Miller is best known as a teacher and founder of what became known as the Fourteenth Street school. While paintings of middle-class female shoppers from his mature period are his best known, he had a long, distinctly different early phase.
Miller was born in the utopian community of Oneida and studied art in the 1890s at the New York School of Art with WILLIAM M. CHASE and later at the Art Students League with several prominent, traditional, mural painters, such as Kenyon Cox (1856-1919) and H. Siddons Mowbray (1858-1928). Works from his first sustained period of painting are mostly of nude figures set in idealized, romantic landscapes. These poetic, somewhat symbolic paintings, similar to the art of his contemporaries ARTHUR B. DAVIES and Bryson Burroughs (1869-1934), were largely inspired by ALBERT PINKHAM RYDER, an artist Miller admired and befriended.
After World War I Miller turned to realism. Like the Ash Can school painters, he became a delineator of the ordinary pedestrian, but unlike them was fascinated with the human figure as a vehicle for plastic interpretation. His painting style became less atmospheric as he brightened his palette and delineated objects more clearly. His depictions of robust female shoppers in groups, pairs, or alone established his reputation in the 1920s and 1930s. He also continued to paint the female nude but placed the figure in interior settings and rendered it as a more sensuous and real body than he had in his earlier idealized works. Throughout his career Miller was also interested in etching and sometimes repeated his painted images in prints.
After a trip to Europe in 1900 Miller began a long teaching career, first at the Chase School of Art, and when that dissolved, in 1911 he began his more than forty-year association with the Art Students League. His numerous students there included Isabel Bishop (1902-1988), Yasuo Kuniyoshi (1893-1953), and REGINALD MARSH. In his teaching Miller stressed the importance of learning from the art of the past, in particular that of the Renaissance. He was also instrumental in reviving old-master techniques such as casein and tempera painting.
Oneida, N.Y., Mrs. Louise Miller Smith Collection, Kenneth Hayes Miller Papers (on microfilm, Archiv. Am. Art) § Alan Burroughs, Kenneth Hayes Miller, American Artists Series (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, [c. 19311), with biographical note, bibliography § Index 20th Cent. Artists 3 (December 1935): 197-200; 3 (August-September 1936) III; reprint, pp. 488-91, 494 § Harry Salpeter, "Kenneth Hayes Miller: Intellectual," Esquire 8 (October 1937): 88-89, 197-98, 200, 203 § Lincoln Rothschild, To Keep Art Alive: The Effort of Kenneth Hayes Miller, American Painter (1876-1952) (Philadelphia: Art Alliance Press, 1974), with catalogue of paintings, bibliography.