highlights international perspective

Lilian May Miller, (American, b. Japan,1895-1943)

Rain Blossoms

Color woodblock print. With artist's monogram LMM within the composition at lower left, and signed in ink, Lilian Miller 1928. Titled in pencil on the bottom margin, "Rain Blossoms" - Japan. Self-carved and very likely self-printed by the artist, ca. 1928.

26.2 by 39.4 cm

Alternate titles: Fujiyama Amid Clouds; and Shoji, Fujiyama

Lilian May Miller was born in Japan in 1895. Her father, Ransford, worked at the American embassy in Tokyo and her mother, Lilly, taught English at the Christian mission. Lilian was a tomboy, encouraged by Ransford's amusing nickname for her: 'Jack.' Ransford enthusiastically embraced his posting in Japan, immersing himself, and his children, in the language and culture. In 1904, at the suggestion of Helen Hyde (cat nos. 5-8), Ransford enrolled nine year old Lilian in the atelier of Kanô Tomonobu (1843-1912), one of the last Kanô school painting masters.

In 1907, she began lessons with a more progressive artist, Shimada Bokusen (1867-1941), who bestowed her with the (art name) of Gyokka (Jeweled Flower). Lilian's unique training in Japanese painting came to a halt when her father was transferred back to Washington in 1909, and thus, her formative teenaged and young adult years would be spent in the States, where she attended Vassar College in New York. Following her graduation in 1917, Miller returned to Asia; her father had taken a temporary position in Japan, and the following year he became the Consulate General in Seoul, Korea. Miller visited Korea and fell in love with it, but returned to Japan to live on her own with the help of a stipend from her parents.

By 1920 she was living as the tenant of the formidable Bertha Lum (cat. nos. 9-10), and had turned to printmaking as a way of supplementing her income. It is presumably thanks to Lum that Miller began to work with the block carver Matsumoto (who had worked for Helen Hyde) and the printer Nishimura Kumakichi, whom Lum had come to rely on completely for her own print productions. Shortly thereafter there was a dramatic falling-out between the two artists, the exact cause is not known, but it seems to stem from some issues regarding artistic integrity. Interestingly, Miller also struggled with a relationship with Elizabeth Keith (cat. no. 17), who began as a friend but later developed into a rival (see Brown, Lilian Miller: An American Artist in Japan, in Impressions 27, 2006, for an untangling of these conflicts).

Yokohama Museum of Art, Eyes Towards Asia: Ukiyo-e Artists from Abroad, 1996, p. 124, no. 164 (brown palette)
Brown, Between Two Worlds: The Life and Art of Lilian May Miller, 1998, p. 68, fig. 72 and back endpaper
Brown, Lilian Miller: An American Artist in Japan, in Impressions 27, 2006, pp. 80-97


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site last updated
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Scholten Japanese Art
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