Lawyer to art curator isn’t the most traditional of career trajectories, but Henry Miller is glad he took the plunge in 2013. Having worked at the bar for 20 years, Miller decided to replace contentious litigation and 70-hour weeks with a Master’s programme at Christie’s Education – and the launch of his own gallery two years later.
“There was no one place in the world where I could go and browse for the art I wanted,” he remembers. “So, while renovating a big house in Walthamstow, I created the gallery I’d like to shop in myself.” That gallery is Henry Miller Fine Art, based out of Miller’s own home, and its focus is the male form.
While there exists an assumption that the gallery showcases “just pictures of naked men”, Miller’s ever-expanding collection is unusual within the industry for the age of the portraits and photographs on display – some of which date back to 1600. “Most of my artists are dead,” he says, “I focus on older works, but the one thing I’ve never lost sight of is quality.”
People have been spending on pictures, not holidays
Springtime is ordinarily Miller’s busiest time of the year, though recent months have necessitated the cancellation of two art fairs and exhibitions. Nonetheless, the house, which Miller shares with his husband, is now open – within Covid-compliant guidelines. He ordinarily rents gallery space in Fitzrovia several times a year, but the lack of overhead costs has been a distinct advantage through these turbulent times.
“Everything on the walls is for sale,” he says, “and during the height of the pandemic, it wasn’t shut away in storage. People were passing a lot of time at home looking at their walls, and spent money on pictures, rather than holidays.”
The gallery’s website has a specific catalogue of works for £500 or less, and many buyers were prepared to invest in these without necessarily seeing them in the flesh. If they were London-based, Miller would often make the drive to display a picture on someone’s front doorstep.
‘Buy what you can afford’
The gallery will be on exhibition – in person, hopefully – at the Battersea Decorative Art Fair this October. A haven for antique dealers, interior designers, textile makers and picture dealers alike, of special interest from Miller’s collection will be Michael Leonard’s Torso, 2008, a signed and dated alkyd-oil on Masonite board. Though Miller does not formally represent artists, Michael Leonard comes close; this is from the last series of male nudes completed for an exhibition in New York.
Head of Mercury, by Isidore Pils (1815-1875) – an academic artist from Paris – is also on offer, a piece dating from c. 1875 in charcoal, pencil and chalk. It was the study for the mural at Paris’s Garnier Opera House.
“I have a particular interest in the space where art meets social history,” Miller says, something that becomes clear in the Scottish artist Robert Colquhoun’s Portrait of Robert MacBryde (c.1937/38). This “deeply sensitive” drawing, emblematic of the “two Roberts” – a couple prominent in the 1940s and 1950s – is a signed pencil on brown paper.
Pieces range from anywhere between £200 and £45,000, and Miller deals both with first-time buyers and more established clients. “I’ve always found that if you’re interested, you buy whatever you can afford – I certainly did.” Miller sees himself as curating a rotating collection: “It’s the name of the game,” he says. “Sometimes I have works for a week, sometimes I’ll hang them in my office for years before deciding to sell, and some pieces really break my heart when they go.”
For more information visit henrymillerfineart.co.uk