David Brown Milne
CGP CSGA CSPWC
1882 - 1953
Divided Forms, New York
watercolour on illustration board
on verso titled, dated circa 1913 on the Mira Godard Gallery label and circa 1912 - 1913 on the Masters Gallery labels and inscribed "381 / Cat"
14 1/2 x 17 in 36.8 x 43.2 cm
Estimate: $40,000 - $60,000
Sold for: $103,250
Preview at: Design Exchange
Estate of the Artist
Mira Godard Gallery, Calgary
Mira Godard Gallery, Toronto
Masters Gallery Ltd., Calgary
Acquired from the above by the present Private Collection, Calgary
David Milne: City Streets and Northern Scenes, Mira Godard Gallery, 1981, reproduced plate 3
David Milne: New York City Paintings, 1910 – 1916, Mira Godard Gallery, 1984, listed
David Milne Jr. and David P. Silcox, David B. Milne: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume 1: 1882 – 1928, 1998, reproduced page 89, catalogue #104.76
Mira Godard Gallery, Calgary, David Milne: City Streets and Northern Scenes, April 1981, catalogue #3
Mira Godard Gallery, Toronto, David Milne: New York City Paintings, 1910 – 1916, February 23 – March 14, 1984, catalogue #10
The early date of this subtly powerful painting alerts us to fundamental points about David Milne’s art in general. Born in Bruce County, in rural southwestern Ontario, the resourceful Milne enrolled at age 21 at the Art Students League in New York City, and worked there until 1916, when he moved to Boston Corners, in New York state. Milne joined the Canadian Army in 1917 and returned to the United States after serving in World War I.
That Milne was one of the most accomplished artists of his generation is recognized internationally today. In New York City, he learned about the then-radical modernist tendencies of both American and European Impressionism, Post-Impressionism and Fauvism, movements that would initially inflect his own unique painting style. He began to understand and seek out urban scenes, inspired in part by the Ashcan School and the associated group The Eight, including artists such as Robert Henri, Maurice Prendergast and William J. Glackens. Milne’s work was exhibited regularly by circa 1910 and reviewed approvingly in the New York press. Most significantly for an art history of Canadian painters, he exhibited five paintings in North America’s most important and controversial early exhibition of the avant-garde, the Armory Show (1913). Seen in New York, Boston and Chicago, this exhibition brought Milne into contact with the contemporary international avant-garde, especially the paintings of Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse and Édouard Vuillard that he had begun to see in New York galleries. Milne adapted these Post-Impressionist tendencies to form his own style, and his paintings in his New York years especially offer an urban paradigm of aesthetic value that differed from the nationalistic landscape ethos of his contemporaries in Canada, notably the Group of Seven.
Divided Forms, New York could seem like an unlikely title for a clear image of a large house and its immediate surrounds, including a majestic tree, a neat fence and casual passersby. But revealingly, Milne was not concerned with the titles of his paintings, focusing instead on structure, colour, space—in short, their formal nature. Divided Forms, New York is a superb example of the complexity of Milne’s visual thinking in these registers; where and what it suggests in our quotidian world is secondary. His wife Patsy (May Frances Hegarty), however, seems to have initiated a spate of titling of his New York works just before he departed overseas near the end of World War I.
Watercolour is the medium for Milne. It offered the immediacy of quick application and encouraged his bold use of the largely uninflected—but never “blank”—space of the paper. As the Metropolitan Museum in New York claimed on the occasion of the Milne watercolour exhibit there in 2005 to 2006, “Milne's watercolors are arguably his best and most important creations and were conceived as independent works of art.” The dexterity of Milne’s eye and mind comes through best in this medium. Here we enjoy a contrast between the rectilinear forms of the building—vibrantly coloured in its upper storeys near the road, but tapering into white space at the rear, accented only by the strong blues used for the windows. These blue inflections are important because they link our vision to the densely blue sky. In effect, Milne has inverted our expectations for “normal” vision here, making the sky solid and the building and tree almost ephemeral.
Best of all in this memorable work, however, is the magnificent tree that both screens and, in its nearly perfect roundness of outline, contrasts with the architecture. So dynamic are Milne’s colour and line here that the tree becomes a being as much as the relatively incidental figures beneath it. The brown-green line that Milne uses for this splendidly spreading deciduous tree suggests that it is spring or summer. In places, the tint of its branches and leaves is also a blend of the colours he has used for the upper two storeys of the building, melding all these forms in a harmony that is typical of Milne’s apparently effortless abilities.
We thank Mark Cheetham, Professor of Art History at the University of Toronto and author of Landscape into Eco Art: Articulations of Nature Since the ’60s, for contributing the above essay.
1. Metropolitan Museum of Art, David Milne Watercolors: “Painting Toward the Light” (2005), organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario, “Exhibition Overview,” para. 1, https://www.metmuseum.org/en/exhibitions/listings/2005/david-milne.
Estimate: $40,000 - $60,000
All prices are in Canadian Dollars
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