The story of alumnus Francis Davis Millet | AP School Of Arts Skip to main content
  • Home
  • News
  • The story of alumnus Francis Davis Millet

The story of alumnus Francis Davis Millet

Francis Davis Millet (1846-1912) was a 19th century man caught between two cultures, American and European. He could easily be described as an artist, journalist, adventurer, administrator and friend to everyone he met. From 1871-1873 Francis Davis Millet, Frank, studied at the Royal Academy of Art in Antwerp, where he truly excelled.[1] It seems fitting that within our own anniversary of 360 years, Frank’s achievement of 150 years ago is put in the spotlight, as he is truly an alumnus to be admired.

Enjoy this short summary of his life and adventures at the Academy of Antwerp!


It was the rich history of the Academy and city that encouraged Frank to follow his passion to Antwerp in the second half of the 19th century. The foundation of the venerable school can be traced back to 1663 and ever since its beginning, it has put a strong emphasis on drawing and the technical skills that go into this art form. Being lucky enough to be surrounded by a great many art works from Flemish old masters and modern Belgian pictures in Boston, he didn’t doubt for a second that he could benefit from crossing the ocean to develop his talent further.


Millet first set foot in the Academy in 1871, when the school was in the capable hands of Nicaise De Keyser, a Belgian painter who played a crucial role in the Belgian Romantic-historical school of painting. There are records that reveal the studiousness of Frank and his willingness to learn and use his time in Antwerp to the fullest. Boston artist Edwin Graves Champney (1842-1899) was a fellow student at the Antwerp Academy and declared that Frank was busily “engaged in making studies.” [2]


Frank is praised for his skills and perseverance when he wins the silver medal during the Academy’s competitions or concours that took place yearly in February. This high honor celebrated a student’s achievements in both practice and theory, and was not often bestowed on foreign students, making him stand out as a symbol of excellence at the Academy. This did not go unnoticed in America, as Frank received the highest praises from the foreign correspondent of the Boston Daily Advertiser:

“In Antwerp, it was my pleasure to offer congratulations to the victor at the late academy competition, Mr. Frank D. Millett; long ere this you must have learned of his unparalleled success—a success which was in his case much more than the crown of laurel and the silver medal.. . . America has not for years sent so promising a student abroad…” [3]


He stayed on at the Academy for another semester and was again praised for his skills, at this time enhanced by multiple European (study) trips and earned the gold medal for excellence upon finishing his studies at the Academy. He was the very first foreign student to achieve this amazing feat. After that, he spent many years in Europe and stateside, as he incorporated the skillset he had acquired at the Academy into his many paintings. Realizing that to be an artist meant continuously discovering and growing, he realized that his time at the Academy, even though it was invaluable to establish a strong base, was not the end of his learning curve.


Francis Davis Millet dedicated his life to art and continuously fought to preserve and advance the interests of both art and art education in the United States of America. With the beautiful example of reverence towards the art scene he had witnessed during his time in Europe, he was committed to bringing this same sense of pride and admiration to his home country. This culminated in him being appointed director of the American Academy in Rome, a position for which he traveled to and from Italy many times. Unfortunately, one of these trips proved to be his last as he died on that fateful ocean crossing of the Titanic on April 14th, 1912. His death did not go unnoticed and he received volumes of praise for his life and work, not only from his home country but also from across the Atlantic.

Francis Davis Millet – 1869 Harvard Yearbook

Text, letter

Description automatically generated

Laurel leaves, which formed part of the Victor's Crown that was placed on Francis Davis Millet's head when he was awarded the Gold medal in Antwerp, 1873


Old Flemish Woman Threading a Needle – circa 1872

This painting is believed to have been painted by Millet while a student at the Royal Academy of Art in Antwerp, Belgium


The Artist’s Studio, Antwerp – circa 1872

This painting of Millet’s bedroom, is most often associated with his time while studying at the Royal Academy of Art in Antwerp, Belgium



[1] Abstract of Michael Sullivan’s David Francis Millet’s presentation at the Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp.

[2] Edwin Graves Champnev Diary, entries for 19 August 1871 and 3 September 1871, EGCP/AAA, Reel 2899, Frames 49 and 56, respectively.

[3] Unidentified newspaper clipping, AAA&L, Francis Davis Millet Scrapbook I.