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Miller, William (1796-1882) (DNB00)

MILLER, WILLIAM (1796–1882), line-engraver, youngest son of George Miller, a descendant of an old quaker family who settled in Edinburgh about 1688, was born in that city on 28 May 1796. He was educated partly in England and partly at the university of Edinburgh, and it was intended that he should enter his father's business of a shawl manufacturer. His early devotion to art led, however, to his being apprenticed in 1811 to William Archibald, an engraver. With him Miller remained four years, and after having done a little work on his own account he, at the end of 1819, went to London, and became a pupil of George Cooke. He returned to Edinburgh in the autumn of 1821 and at once obtained a good practice as a landscape engraver. His first plate for Williams's ‘Views in Greece’ was finished in 1822, and was followed by eighteen other plates for the same work. In 1824 he completed his first engraving after Turner, ‘Clovelly Bay,’ which with ‘Comb Martin’ and ‘Portsmouth’ appeared in Turner's ‘Antiquarian and Picturesque Tour round the South Coast,’ 1826. He afterwards engraved some plates for Surtees's ‘History of Durham,’ 1816–40, and Brown's ‘Select Views of the Royal Residences of Scotland,’ 1830; but it was as an interpreter of the works of Turner that Miller acquired his fame. The larger plates which he engraved after that master were ‘The Grand Canal, Venice’ (1837), ‘Modern Italy’ (1842), issued by the Art Union of London, ‘The Rhine, Osterspey and Feltzen’ (1853), ‘The Piazzetta, Venice’ (1854), ‘The Bell Rock Lighthouse’ (1864), and ‘St. Michael's Mount’ (1866). Other plates after Turner were the ‘Straits of Dover,’ ‘Great Yarmouth,’ ‘Stamford,’ ‘Windsor Castle,’ ‘Chatham,’ ‘Carew Castle,’ and ‘Durham Cathedral,’ for the ‘Picturesque Views in England and Wales,’ 1838; ‘The Prince of Orange Landing at Torbay,’ ‘Modern Italy,’ ‘The Shipwreck,’ ‘Spithead,’ ‘Line Fishing off Hastings,’ ‘The Battle of Trafalgar,’ and ‘Wreck off Hastings,’ which appeared first in the ‘Art Journal’ and afterwards in the ‘Turner Gallery;’ views of ‘Dryburgh Abbey,’ ‘Melrose,’ ‘Edinburgh,’ ‘Loch Katrine,’ ‘Loch Achray,’ ‘Skiddaw,’ and ‘Berwick upon Tweed,’ for Sir Walter Scott's ‘Poetical Works,’ 1833–34; thirty-one plates for Scott's ‘Miscellaneous Prose Works,’ 1834–6; ‘Nantes,’ ‘Between Clairmont and Mauves,’ ‘Château de Nantes,’ ‘Rouen’ (two views), ‘Pont Neuf, Paris,’ and ‘Melun,’ for Turner's ‘Annual Tour,’ or ‘Rivers of France,’ 1833–1835; the ‘Tower of London,’ for the ‘Literary Souvenir’ of 1832; ‘Marly’ and ‘The Palace of La Belle Gabrielle,’ for the ‘Keepsake’ of 1832 and 1834; and four illustratrations for Rogers's ‘Poems,’ 1834. Although highly successful in the execution of his larger plates after Turner, it was in the delicacy of touch and refinement of style with which he rendered the marvellous drawing of the skies, or suggested the magical charm of the mountain distances, in the smaller book illustrations that his full sympathy with the painter was shown to the greatest advantage.

Miller's larger plates after other masters were ‘Edinburgh’ (1826), after H. W. Williams; ‘The Watering Place’ (1836), after the picture by Gainsborough in the National Gallery; ‘The Schule Scalin,’ left unfinished by William Howison, and ‘An Incident in the Life of Napoleon,’ after Sir George Harvey, P.R.S.A.; ‘The Battle of Trafalgar’ (1839), after Clarkson Stanfield, R.A., and ‘A Sunset at Sea after a Storm’ (1849), after F. Danby, A.R.A., both for Finden's ‘Royal Gallery of British Art.’ He also engraved for the Royal Association for the Promotion of the Fine Arts in Scotland, ‘Loch an Eilan,’ after Horatio MacCulloch, R.S.A.; ‘Italian Goatherds,’ after R. Scott Lauder, R.S.A.; ‘Kilchurn Castle,’ after Turner; ‘Dunluce Castle,’ after the Rev. John Thomson of Duddingston, and six smaller plates. There are likewise six plates by him in the Vernon Gallery and Royal Gallery of Art, which were issued first in the ‘Art Journal.’ His book plates after artists other than Turner comprise three for Stanfield's ‘Coast Scenery of the English Channel,’ 1836, thirty-four after Stanfield and others for the Abbotsford edition of the ‘Waverley Novels,’ 1842–7, five after Stanfield for the ‘Picturesque Annual,’ 1832–4, and others for the ‘Winter's Wreath,’ 1828–32, ‘Landscape Annual,’ 1830–2, ‘Keepsake,’ 1831, ‘Literary Souvenir,’ 1833, Hall's ‘Book of Gems,’ 1836–8, Lockhart's ‘Life of Scott,’ 1839, ‘The Land of Burns,’ 1840, Kitto's ‘Daily Bible Illustrations,’ 1850–4, Alaric Watts's ‘Lyrics of the Heart,’ 1851, and an exquisite vignette of ‘Rab's Grave,’ for Dr. John Brown's ‘Rab and his Friends,’ 1862. His latest works were forty-four plates for ‘Hood's Poems illustrated by Birket Foster,’ 1871, and ‘Hood's Poems again illustrated by Birket Foster,’ 1872.

Miller was an honorary member of the Royal Scottish Academy and occasionally contributed water-colour drawings to its exhibitions. During the last ten years of his life he retired from the active work of his profession, but found congenial occupation in water-colour painting and in philanthropic work.

He resided throughout his life at Millerfield House, Edinburgh, but died at Sheffield, while on a visit to his daughter, on 20 Jan. 1882. He was interred in the burial-ground attached to the meeting-house of the Society of Friends in Pleasance, Edinburgh.

[Scotsman, 21 Jan. 1882; Annual Report of the Royal Scottish Academy, 1882; Catalogue of Engravings by William Miller, H.R.S.A., by W. F. M[iller], 1866, with portrait, privately printed.]

R. E. G.