Mary Louise Kane writes: ‘By the time Miller painted this canvas, probably in the mid-1920s, he was well-established as one of the artistic luminaries, indeed one of the first wave of artists, who had turned Provincetown, Massachusetts into a leading art colony on the East Coast. In the fifteen years he had previously spent in France, first as a student, then as a teacher and acclaimed exhibition artist, followed by a year in Pasadena, California, Miller espoused the conviction that “Art’s mission is not literary, the telling of a story, but decorative, the conveying of a pleasant optical sensation”, a belief he held to the end of his career.
‘The subject that exemplified this conviction for most of Miller’s forty-year career was that of comely women posed in meditative solitude, usually in intimate domestic interiors. Woman seated at a dressing table fits squarely into this genre, which Miller raised to new popularity. The boldly checked taffeta skirt in the painting echoes one of Miller’s early successes in the genre: Chinese statuette, circa 1909-1910 (The Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis, Missouri), a Sargentesque portrait of his wife clad in the same skirt (rendered slightly darker). The repeated use of this skirt, which appears in several other paintings over a span of twenty years, indicates that it was a prop, a deliberate costume that served Miller’s desire to create decorative effects while simultaneously showcasing his ability to render complex forms and textures. Any one of the skirt’s characteristics - billowing folds, shimmering texture, checked weave – is a technical painting challenge. By combining them Miller displayed the kind of mastery that earned him the French Legion of Honour medal for his art in 1908.
‘A 1931 photograph of Miller’s Provincetown studio shows the checked skirt hanging on a wall near the corner which Miller had set up as an ‘interior’, with furnishings that are familiar from their appearance in his work. Miller went through a very strong Impressionist period, in which his palette became very bright and colourful….In the early 1920s he reverted more to the greyer tones, cooler colours and fluid medium of his early paintings. He also began painting nudes again, honing his already well-developed skill at turning flesh into an infinitely nuanced and exquisite substance. Woman seated at a dressing table marks both of these tendencies.
‘A newspaper review (July 12th, 1924) of the second annual exhibition in Gloucester, Massachusetts of the North Shore Arts Association praises Miller’s submission Interior (unlocated) in a manner that could easily apply to this painting: “ one of the choice canvases of the exhibition. Typical in treatment and figure arrangement, it is a delightful study of luminous grey tones”’.