Devoted to the Male Form: The Story Behind Henry Miller Fine Art Gallery

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Henry Miller Fine Art
Arthur Tress, (American b.1940), Man with Trousers, c.1980Photography by Henry Miller, Courtesy of Henry Miller Fine Art

“I didn’t set out to be radical”: Tony Wilkes meets the man behind the east London gallery, which brings together paintings, drawings, prints and photography focusing on the male form

Henry Miller went to a print shop in 1987 and asked if they’d got any Warhols. “I was 16 or 17,” the curator says today. “I think the man thought I’d be getting a Marilyn or an Elvis or something really ordinary.” Instead, he ordered Querelle (1982), a poster for the film by Rainer Fassbinder based on a book by Jean Genet. The image is all tongue: one man is licking another man’s ear, and the tongue is too red and too long like the devil’s. “He was shocked,” remembers Miller. “They arrived all wrapped up and I said, ‘No, no, no. I want to check the frames.’ It made him quite nervous. That was one of the first things I bought. And things sort of … developed.”

The result is Henry Miller Fine Art, an east London art gallery focused on the male form. “When I started collecting,” Miller says, “what really surprised me is that there wasn’t a gallery that focused solely on the male form in relation to older works. There are other galleries that do ‘contemporary gay art’. But that doesn’t excite me. I do show contemporary pieces, but they have to be evocative of something much older. So I created the gallery I wanted to shop in myself.”

Miller had previously been working 75-hour weeks in a “highly contentious litigation job” when he took paid leave for a Masters at Christie’s. “It was very much on the History of Art, but with a view for starting a career in the art world. I call it a ‘sabbatical’. But it was quite a major thing to do, to take all my money and invest it in pictures.” 

The gallery was founded in 2015 and doubles as Miller’s Walthamstow home. There are Persian rugs and chinoiserie, and it’s all House & Garden and un-fucked up by a child or an animal. There’s art to buy in the hall and the kitchen, more in the living room, all up the stairs, more on the landing, before it all ends in a bedroom. There’s also prosecco. “Because we show them at home,” Miller explains, “I’ve got to sell pictures I love.”

The work is exquisite. The pieces date from the 16th century to the present and cover all types of media, but what Miller loves most in a picture is an “alibi”: “It’s easy to think that since ancient Greece the artistic ideal has always been beauty. But actually there’s a whole other tradition that does that, but you just know there’s more going on. Pictures like that really fascinate me. What can you get away with? In full view of everyone? And people not realise it?”

George Artemoff drew a male nude in charcoal and ink around 1930 but called it a Study, for training. Edwin F Townsend shot a male Nude with Chains around 1940 but sold them to “male physique” magazines. Paul Sabatier drew a nude soldier for Academic Study After Jacques-Louis David (1874) but placed him in myth. Michelangelo sculpted a turn-on but said it was David (c. 1501-04), while Da Vinci just called his St. John (1513). 

But men are not traditionally meant to be objects of art. “Men look at women,” John Berger wrote. “Women watch themselves being looked at.” When men look at men, however, they break rules. “I didn’t set out to be radical,” says Miller. “But I was at a fair and I had a huge nude on a stand by Michael Leonard. I’d only been open ten minutes and a woman started having a go and saying it’s filth. What I found fascinating is she’d walked past a whole span of female nudes. I think society is just immune to female nudity. People don’t see it. If you take this to the straight world of an art fair, it provokes reactions other dealers don’t get. There’s isn’t anyone else like me.”

Miller’s clientele is “95 per cent gay” and “5 per cent” female, and half of his sales ship abroad. “I don’t label it,” he says. “Women love it. A certain kind of woman. A woman who doesn’t give a fuck what her husband thinks. Inevitably, it’s a place of interest to gay and queer people. Inevitably, there are people who consider this a gay art gallery. People can take from it what they want. But focusing on the male form. That is what I do.”

Henry Miller Fine Art is open by appointment. To book, email To keep up to date with current stock and future exhibitions, follow his Instagram or visit his website.