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Edna St. Vincent Millay

Charles Ellis, 1892 - 1976
Edna St. Vincent Millay, 22 Feb 1892 - 19 Oct 1950
Oil on canvas
Frame: 98.7 x 85.7 x 7.9cm (38 7/8 x 33 3/4 x 3 1/8")
Credit Line
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of the artist and Mrs. Norma Millay Ellis
Object number
Exhibition Label
Born Rockland, Maine
Literarily and temperamentally precocious, the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay exemplified the spirit of the "Roaring Twenties" and the emancipation of American women. She started writing as a child and became a rebellious student at Vassar College. In 1917 she moved to Greenwich Village, the center of avant-garde and rebel culture. She won the Pulitzer Prize for The Harp-Weaver in 1923. Poetically, Millay was a romantic, inspired by the ecstatic visions of John Keats and William Wordsworth; her first notable poem "Renascence" (1912) spoke of a nature that "breathed my soul back into me." Her famous quatrain "First Fig" (1920) celebrates abandonment:
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light.
Millay’s romanticism was at odds with literary modernism, and her reputation has declined. However, during the 1920s she exemplified the age that she did so much to define.
The sitter’s sister Norma Millay Ellis [Mrs. Charles Ellis], and her husband Charles Ellis, the artist; gift 1968 to NPG.
Data Source
National Portrait Gallery
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National Portrait Gallery Collection