Charles Henry Miller seated in front of the Niagara Falls painting in his home Queenslawn.
Image courtesy of Ruth Ann Bramson and Geoffrey K. Fleming, authors of the book Charles Henry Miller, N.A.: Painter of Long Island.
Regular visitors to the NYMC Health Sciences Library have likely noticed the expanding exhibit of paintings on the stairwell walls, adding a nobility and grace to this central vertical space. These recently donated works are the legacy of Charles Henry Miller, M.D., New York Homeopathic Medical College (NYHMC), Class of 1863. Dr. Miller was not the first student to attend graduate school to please his parents only to then pursue an alternative career. After receiving his Doctor of Medicine diploma from the hands of NYHMC president William Cullen Bryant, Miller used his medical degree only once--as a medical doctor on board a ship bound for Europe where he intended to study art in the great museums. Even on board, most of his time was spent sketching weary crewmen instead of treating them.
In the years following his graduation from NYHMC, Miller studied art formally at the National Academy of Art and Design in New York City as well as at European Art Academies. An early large inheritance from his father enabled Miller to enjoy a lifelong career as an independent painter. He became an extremely active and important art academician, ultimately becoming a good friend of Bryant, who was also involved in the American art community. Miller achieved lifelong recognition not only as a progressive artist, but also as a preservationist with a particular focus on the nature, shores, and the evolving rural landscape of Long Island, N.Y.
Miller’s work of “Niagara Falls,” on the central wall, was painted in the last quarter of the 19th century and was considered one of his greatest large-scale masterpieces. This painting is well documented as having hung for several decades in Miller’s studio at his home in Queens, where he periodically worked on refining the piece. Soon after his death in 1922, the painting was sold by his heirs, and seems to have become lost since then. Earlier this year, the painting came out of obscurity and was purchased at auction in New England by Jay Tartell, M.D.’82, who serves as the archivist and historian of NYMC’s Alumni Board of Governors. Shortly after Dr. Tartell donated this work to the College, another very early Miller painting was donated to the College by Geoffrey Fleming, who in 2012 co-authored a book with Ruth Ann Bramson, Charles Henry Miller, N.A.: Painter of Long Island. Three additional Miller paintings were subsequently purchased and donated by Dr. Tartell to join the “Niagara Falls” ensemble: “The Foster House,” 1887; and two slightly later, but undated paintings, “A Long Island Landscape” and “A Pastoral Scene.”
“It is very gratifying to bring Miller’s artworks home to the NYMC community,” says Dr. Tartell. “Nurturing artistic sensibilities among our students will surely help them become more well-rounded and successful professionals. Like the Bryant exhibit, also on display in the Health Sciences Library, showcasing the breadth of talents and accomplishments that can reside in a single person is a strong reminder that passion is the key ingredient for success.”