George M. Miller was a stone-cutter, potter, and sculptor who often "modeled" in wax. Among biographical sources there is disagreement about whether his birthplace was Scotland or Germany, and about the original spelling of his last name: Muller, Müller, or Miler. Nothing is known about his family, education, or date of birth.
Miller had come to America and settled in Philadelphia by 1798. He carved a profile protrait of George Washington in gypsum that year, and he may be the George Miller, potter, listed in the 1798 Philadelphia city directory. In 1803 Miller made a profile relief of Thomas Jefferson, possibly in wax, of which a cast survives.
An inscription on the reverse of a wax profile portrait of Robert Oliver of Baltimore indicates that Miller had relocated to Maryland's cosmopolitan center by 1810. From 1810 to 1812 he was listed in Baltimore city directories as "George Miller, artist."
He returned to Philadelphia in 1813 and became a fellow of the Columbian Society of Artists and a member of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. In 1813 Miller showed portraits of Albert Gallatin, Mrs. James Madison, and two unidentified gentlemen, all "modelled in colours," at the Academy. The following year he exhibited "original models" of busts of Charles Willson Peale, Commodore William Bainbridge, and Reverend Bishop William White, along with Houdon's Bust of Washington--Drapery, Muscles of a Horse. A Cast from a French model, and Head of the Venus de Medici. The 1815 exhibition, Miller's last, included two wax portraits, one "coloured" and the other "plain," of unidentified men. Although he did not exhibit after 1815, his listing in the 1816 Philadelphia city directory read "statuary and modeler, 144 Chestnut," and he advertised the making of casts and repairing of sculpture.
The breadth of Miller's interests is suggested in a letter he wrote to the directors of the Athenaeum of Philadelphia in 1814. He offered to deposit there sculptures of Washington, Franklin, Bishop White, and Shakespeare, along with casts of the "Venus de Medici, the Empresses Ottavia, & Valerie, two Antique Funeral Urns, a small wholelength figure of Antinous, small Busts, of Suzanna, & Adonis. The three first of the busts are bronzed, the others waxed, the urns varnished..."
William Dunlap writes that Miller's talents were never recognized and that financial difficulties compelled him to turn to goldbeating before his death in 1819. A dated portrait in wax from that year indicates, however, that he did not give up portraiture entirely.
Miller seems to have aspired to recognition as a sculptor of historical figures and prominent contemporaries, but he is better remembered for his small profile portrait reliefs in wax, which he made in his effort to earn a living. Twenty-three portrait waxes by Miller have been described. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Dunlap, William. History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States. 2 vols. 1834. Reprint. New York, 1969: 2:263.
Bolton, Ethel Stanwood. American Wax Portraits. Boston and New York, 1929: 29-30, 41-45.
Rutledge, Anna Wells. Cumulative Record of Exhibition Catalogues, The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1807-1870, the Society of Artists, 1800-1814, the Artists' Fund Society, 1835-1845. Philadelphia, 1955: 142.
Rutledge, Anna Wells. A Catalogue of Portraits and Other Works of Art in the Possession of the American Philosophical Society. Philadelphia, 1961: 53-54, 101-102.
Craven, Wayne. Sculpture in America. Rev. ed. Newark and New York, 1984: 30, 56.
Chotner, Deborah, with contributions by Julie Aronson, Sarah D. Cash, and Laurie Weitzenkorn. American Naive Paintings. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1992: 259-260.