Alfred Jacob Miller Biography

Alfred Jacob Miller is considered one of the most significant American artists who served as a documenter of the early western United States.  Along with being included on an expedition of the West with explorer Captain William Drummond Stewart, he also became known as the famed artist who chronicled the fur trade at its greatest activity in the Rocky Mountains.

Born in 1810 in Baltimore, Maryland, Miller was born to wealthy parents who encouraged his artistic skills at an early age.  Thomas Sully of Philadelphia taught Miller portraiture at the age of 21.  Portraiture was a reoccurring theme that he continued to pursue throughout his career.  

In 1833, Miller went to Europe to study at the L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris and then went on to study at the English Life School in Rome.  Miller went on to model much of his American Indian subjects after Greek sculpture figures and developed his renowned painting style of romantic, idealized, and dreamy landscapes that he learned from studying the old master’s of European art.

In 1936, Miller moved back to the United States and set up a studio in New Orleans.  It was there that he met the Scottish explorer Stewart who invited him to join in on an expedition to the Rocky Mountains.  

In the spring of 1837, the grand expedition of 45 men and 20 carts set off on a trail that would later become known as the Oregon Trail.  They came across various mountain men and Indians, inhabitants of the land, who would inspire Miller’s engagement in portraying the romance of the wild landscape.  The journey lasted until the fall, wherein Miller created around 200 sketches and watercolors.  

Miller was invited back to Scotland and to Murthly Castle with Captain Stewart where he was encouraged to create a series of paintings from his various sketches for the captain’s enjoyment and memory of his fantastic adventure in the Americas.  

Miller spent the remainder of his life in Baltimore continuing with his sketches of the Rocky Mountains, producing oil paintings and portraits from his western adventures.  He died in 1874.