Obituary: Friend of Royal Academy painter from Kentish Town remembers a ‘gentle’ and ‘modest’ man

Norman Miller

Norman Miller - Credit: Archant

A painter who regularly featured in the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition and lived in Kentish Town for nearly 60 years has died aged 87.

Two Figures in a Garden by Norman Miller. The two figures may be based on Norman himself and his wif

Two Figures in a Garden by Norman Miller. The two figures may be based on Norman himself and his wife Norma - Credit: Archant

Figurative painter Norman Miller, who lived in Willes Road, was best known for his intensely poetic and mysterious paintings, initially of acrobats, clowns and trapeze artists, and latterly of landscapes and gardens, populated with a repertory of figures and birds.

His later works were richly autobiographical with the male and female figures unquestionably representing himself and his wife of more than 60 years, Norma.

The landscape was unmistakably based on his daily walks from Parliament Hill Fields to Kenwood House. These pieces won him a quiet but distinct reputation with collectors.

He died on Monday, May 6 from cancer after a fall sent him into a coma.

Born in Leeds in 1926 to a family of Russian-Jewish background, Mr Miller trained at Leeds and Bradford schools of art in the late 1940s before coming to live and work in London.

He supported himself through a series of part-time jobs, including acting, grave-digging, gardening and graphic design.

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By 1960 he worked for British Telecom as a night- time telephonist but painted during the day. Gradually, he began to find some success with circus themes and scenes of children in parks and landscape settings.

Mr Miller’s style of surrealistic darkness delicately fused Chagall and Klee, Picasso and Douanier Rousseau, with a touch of L.S. Lowry.

These paintings gained him a gallery in the world famous art district of Cork Street in Mayfair and he exhibited at a number of other mixed shows at the Piccadilly and Portal galleries.

From 1985 onwards, he became a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy and his success there meant he could start raising his prices to the point where he could finally give up his BT job and focus on painting full-time.

At this stage, his work took a distinct shift of direction as he started to adopt a much more precise style.

Apart from his regular showings at the Academy, the highlight of his later career was the major retrospective show I helped him to organise with the Belgrave Gallery, then in England’s Lane, in 1998. It was a virtual sell-out and helped introduce Norman’s work to a whole new circle of collectors.

A lover of friends, fun and company, Norman was a humorous, gentle and modest man.

He was, in fact, painting right up until shortly before he died and was planning another major show earlier this year, an idea it is hoped can be revived before too long.

He is survived by wife Norma, sister Lily Rosenberg and goddaughter Sarah Gillies.