The light spring evenings in Paris! The sky in shades of opalescent pale blue. The air, vibrating of undetermined desires, of a longing with no fixed aim, which, in itself, was a feeling of happiness?
Thus writes Ruth Milles in her Recollections. Her entire artistic production is characterised by longing. The Grey of the Days and the Blue of the Dreams, the title of her collections of poems from 1918, could also be the title of an essay on the life of Ruth Milles. In her poems, Recollections and letters, there is a constant longing and dreamy fantasies of days gone by. Many of her sculptures are also tinted by a romantic wistfulness. The present is grey while the memories and dreams are transfigured by the sheen of blue.
Ruth Milles shared Romanticism´s view on art and the world, with its enthusiasm for the past, its interest in mysticism and its love for nature, as important components. This 19th century stylistic movement assumed a partly different expression at the turn of the century, albeit with a similar content, through Symbolism and National Romanticism. Thus, Ruth Milles art is in many respects typical of its age.
Ruth Milles completed her Recollections in 1923. She gave them the title About an Artist. On the cover she placed an image of her brother, the sculptor Carl Milles. She is not so presumptuous as to write about her own life. It is all about her famous brother. In this context, Ruth is an important reporter, as she, his big sister, had a unique opportunity to follow his career. She sees it as her duty to share her observations.
The talented girl
In her Recollections, Ruth writes about their childhood at Örby Gård outside Uppsala, their schooldays and the years in Paris and Stockholm. We learn much about brother Carl but also about sister Ruth.
Ruth was always the talented one. They stuffed me with knowledge like you stuff gooseberries in a bottle. Lieutenant Emil Andersson was proud of his daughter, with whom he had a warm relationship, most likely due to the fact that his wife and the mother of his children, Valborg, died in childbirth when Ruth was six. Emil Andersson was equally concerned that his daughter, as well as his two sons, Carl and Stig, should receive an education. He taught them in such disparate subjects as the history of art, the name of constellations, and the proper manner in which to remove a hook from the mouth of a pike. Ruth claimed that she was the child who was most interested and quick to learn.
Ruth writes: "My impressions of life were transformed into drawings. I covered the entire paper"
Many of her child drawings have survived. Ruth drew princes and princesses, made birthday cards and portrayed her relatives.
When it was time to start school, Ruth was boarded with relatives in Stockholm and began at the State Normal School for Girls. She continued at the Technical School. This was, she said, a truly happy period of her life, as she could concentrate fully on her art. She continued at the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts, where she was considered so talented that she skipped a year. Ruth was awarded grants as well as a medal for her sculpture Köld [Cold] during her years at the Academy. She made many good friends, had crushes on boys as well as her professors, and she was often in love.
She also attended lectures at the Theosophical Society and on occasion participated in spiritual séances, which she did not like. However, theosophy became the foundation of her world view, she says in her Recollections.
At a wedding she met Count Birger Mörner who asked her to make a portrait bust of the writer Ellen Key. She and Key became good friends and she writes about her work with the portrait: "I measured her nose with a metre-measure, inexperienced as I was. It was about 6 cm long. When the bust was transported to the plaster caster, the nose fell off. Yes, it was a nuisance."
In autumn 1899 Ruth Milles travelled to Paris where her brother Carl had been living for several years. He rented a studio for her. An inheritance gave Ruth financial stability in the beginning, enabling her to sculpt, study drawing at the Académie Colarossi and attend anatomy lectures at the École des Beaux-Arts. Soon, however, she had to support herself by drawing and illustrating. Ruth made illustrations for Swedish magazines, Christmas cards and other commodities. The siblings, who had now changed their surname to Milles after their father´s nickname "Mille", were always short of money but they lived a free life. They made friends from different countries, including two Austrian girls, Olga and Lintschi Granner, who lived in the same house as Ruth. Ruth and Carl Milles started spending a lot of time with the Granner sisters. They had dinners at local restaurants and took long walks to take in the famous sites. In the summers, Ruth travelled to Normandy where she worked.
In her Recollections, she gives a solemn description of her encounter with Paris? art treasures, its many museums, monuments and churches. She writes:
"For us, Paris of the boulevards, the luxury and the great fashion stores held no attraction; occasionally we visited the theatre and the music-halls, for example the Moulin Rouge; but first and foremost it was Paris of the great art that we loved and lived"
Ruth and Carl´s economic situation improved when, in collaboration with a colleague, they founded a company that produced casts of statuettes in large editions. Everything went smoothly until they were tricked by the agent whom they had employed. Nevertheless, Ruth could still support herself during her years in France. Her statuettes with motifs of women and children in a realistic style were much appreciated and relatively easy to sell. Importantly, Ruth received an honourable mention at her first participation in the Paris Salon in 1902. Her sculpture bore the title Le Chaperon Rouge. An honourable mention was a great accolade and important for her future career.
By her own initiative, Ruth made some illustrations for books by the Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf and was persuaded by her friends to send them to the author. Selma Lagerlöf replied politely that she liked the drawings and some years later she asked Ruth to illustrate her novel Herr Arnes Penningar. At the time, Ruth was busy finishing a sculpture commission and had to decline the offer. She met Selma Lagerlöf several years later in Stockholm and they corresponded for a few years. They never collaborated but Selma Lagerlöf bought a statuette by Ruth.
Ruth´s deteriorating health
Ruth had a happy time in Paris but there is also much pensive melancholy in her Recollections. Dear friends departed the city, there were constant problems with her income and living situation and Ruth was often ill. She travelled to the countryside for the salubrious country air, she was treated by doctors and admitted to hospital where she was looked after by nuns. In the autumn of 1902, she writes that she preferred to work sitting down, to preserve her strength. When Olga Granner returned to Paris after a couple of years back home in Graz, she moved in with Ruth to help her. Due to her illness, Ruth finally left Paris in the spring of 1903. Suffering from constant fever, she was worried that she would not be able to support herself in Sweden and she had severe doubts as to whether she would be happy with what she later called the ossified conditions back home.
The rest of Ruth´s life would be marked by illness, the cause of which remains obscure. She talks of nerve pain, insomnia and immovability, and later of problems with her stomach and teeth.
Back to Stockholm
Back in Sweden, Ruth Milles rented an apartment and studio on Grevgatan and worked as a sculptor, illustrator and writer. She was interviewed in the magazines Idun and Dagny and was considered a promising young artist. She received a commission by Dramatiska teatern [the Dramatic Theatre] to carve two busts in marble, one depicting the singer Jenny Lind and the other the actor George Dahlberg. She also received commissions for medallions for tombs and other memorials. She made several journeys to Europe and participated in exhibitions in Sweden and abroad. In an exhibition in Buenos Aires, she was awarded the silver medal and all her statuettes were sold. Nationalmuseum in Stockholm also bought works by her. Ruth Milles lived an active life, worked and had many friends. Still, she did not feel well and often consulted medical doctors.
In Stockholm, she had an unhappy love affair. It was, she wrote, an experience of the most difficult kind. A friend of Ruth and Carl?s, a well-known professor, wanted to divorce his wife in order to be with Ruth. Even though she was in love, she did not seriously consider his proposal. Instead she suffered, as she said, most horrendously for many years.
In the hope that the country air would improve her health, Ruth moved to Dalängen on the island of Lidingö in 1913, where she rented an apartment in a villa. She describes how she decorated her home to make it cosy. She knows that, due to her illness, she will not be able to leave her apartment and because it will become like a prison, at least I want to be incarcerated in comfort and beauty.