Henry Miller, Watercolorist

July 15, 2014 2:51 PM

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Henry Miller, Watercolorist

Henry Miller was one of those rare artists, like the English Romantic poet William Blake, to have achieved mastery in two media: language and paint. Though better known for his novels and essay collections, especially the notorious Tropic of Cancer, Miller was also a skilled and devoted watercolorist who painted throughout his writing career and beyond it. Unlike writing, which Miller considered work, his job, he regarded painting as play, a form of relaxation, a way to refresh and recharge his imagination. But watercolor painting also served Miller in a number of practical ways. When short of funds, as he often was, he used his watercolors to barter for services, such as dentistry, and goods, such as household supplies and food. Sales of watercolors at his numerous shows supplemented his slender royalty income from his published books. He also gave watercolors to people who had done him favors or sent him unsolicited presents or cash. After his banned Paris books were finally published in the U.S. during the 1960s and ran immediately to the top of the bestseller lists, Miller, on the advice of his tax attorney, used his watercolors to shelter his income by donating them to museums.

In The Paintings of Henry Miller, a collection of four-color plates of Miller's watercolors accompanied by several Miller essays on the art of watercolor painting, Miller tells us that he began to paint around the year 1928 when he was living in Brooklyn and struggling to find himself as a writer. H...

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