David Brown Milne

David Brown Milne

1882 - 1953

As one of Canada’s most original artists, David Milne chose not to embrace the national mythology present in the works of such artists as the Group of Seven. Set apart from his Canadian contemporaries in this manner, Milne’s work instead exhibited a personal style that uniquely incorporated aspects of both Impressionism and Fauvism, garnering the acclaim of American art critic Clement Greenberg who labeled Milne as one of the three most important North American artists of his generation.

Milne was born in 1882 near the town of Paisley in Bruce County, Ontario. Although he had been an avid drawer since before entering kindergarten, Milne did not commence his artistic education until 1899 when he began studying by correspondence at the Arcade School in New York. In 1904 he went to New York to further pursue his art studies at the Art Students League, which again made him an exception in the early 20th century Canadian art scene as the majority of artists then traveled to Europe to study.

Once he had completed his studies in 1906, Milne began working as a commercial artist to support himself. During this time his work was exhibited at the American Watercolour Society and the Pennsylvania Academy, and five of his works were included in the Armories Exhibition of 1913. As one of only three Canadians to be represented at the exhibition, Milne’s paintings were shown alongside the works of such artists as Matisse, Picasso, Kandinsky, Delacroix, Cezanne, Monet and Van Gogh.

Between the years of 1914 to 1928, Milne lived variously in New York City, the Adirondacks, and several Canadian cities including Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. During WWI he served as a Canadian war artist in Belgium and France, afterwards returning to North America where in 1924 an exhibition of his watercolours was held at the Art Association of Montreal. In 2005 the Art Gallery of Ontario organized a larger exhibition of his watercolours entitled “Painting Towards the Light” which was also held at the British Museum in London and the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

Although he originally worked primarily in oil, Milne turned almost entirely to watercolour after 1937. Landscapes dominated much of his production throughout his career, and it is for these works done in his distinctive calligraphic style for which he is best known.