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The Morning Paper

On view

The Morning Paper

Artist: Kenneth Hayes Miller (American, 1876 - 1952)

Date: 1938
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
Overall: 30 x 25in. (76.2 x 63.5cm)
Support: 30 × 25 1/8in. (76.2 × 63.8cm)
Signed: Lower left center: 'Hayes Miller '38'
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 53.211
Text Entries

In the early 1920s, Kenneth Hayes Miller shifted away from the landscape and mythological imagery that had preoccupied him for much of his twenty-year career and turned to the contemporary scene. The American home-maker in both her public and private roles became Miller’s primary subject. Many of his works depict the lower- and middle-class shoppers he saw outdoors near his Fourteenth Street studio in the heart of New York’s bargain shopping district. Their counterparts were women portrayed in simple settings at home—with children, making music, paying social calls, or at their toilettes. The Morning Paper, one of the most informal of these domestic scenes, shows a typically full-figured Miller matron. Having finished her coffee and opened her mail, she turns her attention to the New York Times.( 1) In the upper right-hand corner of the painting, a picture of an older woman decorates the room and is an example of Miller’s frequent placement of young and old women together to meditate on the passage of time and its effects on female beauty.

With his interest in showing the contemporary scene, Miller followed fashion trends and most of his women are up-to-date in both demeanor and dress. Unlike the reflective or daydreaming woman reader who was frequently imaged in late nineteenth-century art, the woman in The Morning Paper is fully absorbed in a serious urban newspaper. Late 1930s fashion magazines displayed the type of V-neck dress she wears here more than any other style. And, a 1938 McCalls beauty feature pictured hair worn higher, curled, and “rolled” off the face exactly as it appears on the woman in the painting.(2)

After women gained the franchise in 1920, commentators continued the debates about proper roles for the modern woman. In spite of superficial accommodations to modern fashion, the woman in The Morning Paper embodies what was still the widely held middle-class ideal of womanhood—the nurturing figure whose proper place was at home as a wife and mother. Even as the so-called  “new women” were moving into the workplace, testing new roles and relationships in and outside the family, Miller never depicted working women. Moreover, his women rarely appear with men, remaining instead within their own separate spheres of domestic activity. In terms of body imagery, post-World War I changes in fashion had created new preferences in body type that were reflected in both figurative art and popular stereotypes. The sleek and boyish Flapper, for example, became the model for artist Guy Pene du Bois’s contemporary woman, while the blond bombshell of thirties’ movies helped to create Reginald Marsh’s female types. A generation older, Miller ignored these models and returned instead to the full-figured classical body type that had been both the popular and the artistic ideal of female beauty during his years of training with academic artists Kenyon Cox and H. Siddons Mowbray at the turn of the century. His women, who were painted from memory rather than from models, were based on prototypes from the Venetian Renaissance (Titian being his favorite) and from Renoir’s late nudes.

Miller’s image of modern womanhood reached the height of its popularity in the Depression when its enduring qualities helped to counteract both "the fragmentation of modern society and economic chaos. Contemporary art critics praised the Miller woman’s ample proportions and suggested that her plain features evoked the nobility of the average American.(3) Describing her as a woman both “maternal and companionable,”(4) these critics reflected the attitudes of many Americans who ultimately placed a high value on a woman’s more traditional role.

 

Notes

1. The only legible word on the paper is “The,” carefully delineated in the gothic script of the New York Times masthead.

2. “Hair is on the Up and Up,” McCalls (June 1938). P. 89.

3. Lloyd Goodrich, Kenneth Hayes Miller (New York: The Arts Publishing Corporation, 1930), pp. 11-12.

4. Walter Gutman, “Kenneth Hayes Miller,“ Art in America, vol. 18 (February 1930), p. 92.

 

Copyright
Orphaned work.