Theses Doctoral

The Civic Art of Francis Davis Millet

Butler, Eliza Adams

This dissertation explores the important but long forgotten career of the American artist Francis Davis Millet (1848-1912) and in the process calls into question several common understandings of turn-of-the-century American civic art. Through an examination of Millet’s civic art, including mural painting, illustration, and parades, I argue that Millet attempted to use the works he created for large audiences to help viewers navigate a common modern experience: the cultural diversity they encountered all around them. While many American artists making civic art during this period focused on allegorical scenes and emphasized whiteness, Millet’s images taught audiences about cultural diversity and even reflected a certain cultural sensitivity in their careful rendering of nonwhite subjects. In doing so, Millet employed the rhetoric of empiricism and engaged with his subject matter in a manner understood by his audience to be under the purview of science. This, I argue, aligned his project to the hierarchical understanding of “culture” and “evolution” presented by the anthropological community at the time, which argued for the superiority of white over nonwhite groups. In this way, though Millet attempted to move away from all-white subject matter and used global themes relevant to a modern moment, the underlying message he promoted served to reinforce notions of Anglo American hegemony.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Thesis Advisors
Hutchinson, Elizabeth West
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
November 23, 2016