December 13, 2023

Peter Miller Exhibition at Morton Contemporary Gallery

AMERICAN MODERNIST: Artist Peter Miller is shown in her studio circa 1945. “The Peter Miller Story: A Forgotten Woman of American Modernism” is on view at Morton Contemporary Gallery in Philadelphia through January 20. (Julien Levy Gallery Records, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Library and Archives)

Morton Contemporary Gallery, located in the heart of Center City Philadelphia, in partnership with Gratz Gallery & Conservation Studio of Doylestown, Pa., presents “The Peter Miller Story: A Forgotten Woman of American Modernism” through January 20.

The exhibition features 250 Miller paintings that were discovered in a barn in the Catskills in 2020 and restored by longtime Princeton University conservator and gallerist, Paul Gratz.

Born Henrietta Myers, American modernist and surrealist painter Miller attended the Pennsylvania   Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) from 1933-1937. As a young woman artist at the PAFA, Miller saw barriers ahead in her career — in a world of artists, collectors, and critics that was dominated by men — and wondered if she should take her given name or transform her public and artistic persona into a man in order to capture the attention of a male-centered world. In her application to PAFA, she wrote that “she would rather fail at painting than succeed at anything else in life.” Ultimately, harking back to her childhood nickname of “Peter,” and marrying fellow PAFA student Earle Miller in 1935, surrealist modernist Peter Miller was born.

Miller came from a very affluent family in Hanover, Pa., and later settled at Rock Raymond Farm in Chester County, Pa. Upon her death in 1996, she designated her 350-acre farm and private property to be donated to the Brandywine Conservancy.

Classified as an American Modernist, she began her career with two solo shows at the prestigious Julien Levy Gallery in 1944 and 1946.  Reviewers of her exhibitions noted the unmistakable influence of artist Joan Miro (whose work Miller owned and whom she knew); Arthur Carles, whom she studied under; and sources in Native American culture. Throughout her lifetime, Miller came to know an illustrious coterie of artists, including the Calders, Henri Matisse, Max Ernst, and the surrealists of the time in New York City, all of whom influenced her aesthetic leanings. Additionally, one does not have to look hard to see her work sources inspiration at different times from Pablo Picasso, Fernand Leger, and Paul Klee.

Every painting of Miller’s is a story, reflecting her heart and soul, allowing her love of nature and beliefs in all metaphysical things to shine through her work. She believed in exploring the magical realm, telepathy, synchronicity, alchemy, ESP, and tarot card reading. The concept of the collective subconscious captivated her curiosity and imagination. Steeped in the principles of theosophy, and being very familiar with the Transcendental Painting Group (TPG)  of her peers, Miller still remained independent in her artistic language and continued to explore her own unique vision of nature and spirituality throughout her long career as a painter. 

Morton Contemporary Gallery is located at 115 South 13th Street in Philadelphia. For more information, visit