Obituaries : Jeanne Miles; Abstract Artist for Half a Century


Jeanne Miles, contemporary abstract artist whose half-century career produced a series of one-woman shows at New York galleries as well as paintings for the permanent collections of such museums as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Museum, has died. She was 90.

Miles, Baltimore-born and a New Yorker for much of her life, died Friday in Los Angeles, said her only child, actress Joanna Miles.

The artist’s most recent one-woman shows were at the Anita Shapolsky Gallery and at the Marilyn Pearl Gallery in 1994. Her paintings were represented in group shows as recently as last year at the Shapolsky Gallery and at the Depagano Gallery in New York.


Internationally trained, Miles based much of her work on geometric abstractions of mandalas in a continuing artistic quest for spiritualism. A mandala, which is Sanskrit for circle, is often used to symbolize the universe or totality in Hinduism and Buddhism.

“The mandala form is universal and deeply fixed in our psyche. The first time I remember seeing one was on the side of a barn in Pennsylvania Dutch country,” Miles once said. “In books or at exhibitions, whenever there was a circle, or a square, or a triangle, I felt it inside myself. But it wasn’t until I studied with [Russian philosopher P.D.] Ouspensky that I shifted from doing semiabstract portraits to geometric abstraction. When he spoke of order in the universe, that translated in my mind into painting.”

Miles mixed old media and new, working in oils and gold and platinum leaf on a ground of plastic. She turned to gold leaf with her first abstractions in the 1950s, she said, “because gold is so pure that it gives painting another dimension.”

A lifelong student of art and mysticism, Miles earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts at George Washington University, where she was the first woman admitted into the Art School. The university honored her with its Alumni Achievement Award in 1987.

Miles went on to study painting in Tahiti and Paris, and utilized study grants over the years from the Cape Cod School, the Philips Memorial Gallery Museum, the Atelier Marcel Gormaire and Grand Chaumiere in Paris, the Yaddo Art Colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and the McDowell Art Colony in New Hampshire.

Miles married and gave birth to her daughter while studying in Paris, and took refuge in an abandoned monastery as World War II began.


Moving to New York, she produced her first one-woman exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1943. Her work was featured there through 1959 and again from 1977 to 1982.

She had a one-woman show at the Pearl Gallery in 1988 as well as in 1994.

Miles exhibited as part of group shows in numerous New York galleries throughout her career, as well as in such prestigious museums as New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney, Guggenheim and Riverside museums and the Yale Art Museum in New Haven, Conn.

In addition to LACMA and the Guggenheim, other museums holding her work in permanent collections include the Santa Barbara Museum, the Corcoran in Washington, D.C., the Arizona University Museum in Tucson, and the Cincinnati Art Museum.

Miles’ paintings garnered the 1968 American Institute of Arts and Letters Award, the 1970 and 1973 Mark Rothko Awards and the 1974 Pelham von Stdeffler Art Fund Grant.

The artist taught at Oberlin College in Ohio, Moravian College in Pennsylvania and Yale.

In addition to her daughter, Miles is survived by a sister, Kitty Daffron, and one grandson, Miles Brandman.

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