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 David Brown Milne  (1882 - 1953)

About: David Brown Milne
 

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Lived/Active: Ontario/New York / Canada      Known for: painting, printmaking, commercial art

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David Brown Milne
An example of work by David Brown Milne
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
“The thing that makes a picture is the thing that makes dynamite – compression” – David Milne

David Brown Milne is considered to be one of the greatest Canadian artists.  He was a painter, printmaker, commercial artist, illustrator and writer who was born in Burgoyne, Ontario (100 miles North West of Toronto) and died in Bancroft, Ontario (100 miles North East of Toronto), where he had lived the last year of his life (1). He also lived in New York City (1903 - 1916); Boston Corner, New York (1916 - 1928) (2); Temagami, Weston, and Palgrave, Ontario (1928 - 1932); Six Mile Lake, Ontario, (1932 - 1939); Toronto, Ontario (1939 - 1940); and Uxbridge, Ontario (1940 - 1952).  He spent the summers from 1919 to 1928 in the Adirondacks, New York and the winter of 1923/24 in Ottawa, Ontario and Montreal, Quebec. (3)

His primary mediums were oil, watercolor and color drypoint* etching.  Works in other mediums like ink, pencil and mixed mediums are rarer (4).  His subjects are landscapes, interiors, figures, urban scenes, genre, still life, fantasy and according to Milne “shape, color, texture and space”.  His style is Fauvism*.  Milne’s paintings are probably the most original and instantly recognizable of any Canadian artist. AskART images have some excellent illustrations of his work.

Quote: “For David Milne, painter, printmaker, and writer, the process of art and not the content was paramount. His austere work and his pure aesthetic depended on the formulation and solution of certain formal, artistic problems and the consistent development and concentration of his inner self. In simple terms, Milne sought to reduce a painting to its essentials.” - Source: National Gallery of Canada biographical statement.

Quote: 'Since art is aesthetic emotion, exhausting, to be sustained intensely for only a short time, the more quickly readable a picture is the greater its power,' - David Milne

Quote:  ‘Do you like flowers? So do I, but I never paint them. I see, instead, an arrangement of the lines, spaces, hues, values and relations ...’ -  David Milne

Milne’s art education began in 1899 with a correspondence art course.  In 1903, he moved to New York to study at the Art Students League* under George Bridgman and Frank V. Dumond (see both in AskART).  He also attended lectures by Robert Henri and William Merritt Chase (see both in AskART).  Apparently, his studies at the ASL were a combination of part and fulltime until about 1906 when he partnered with Amos Engle (see AskART) in the commercial art business (posters, signs), which he remained in until 1909 when he left it to become a full time painter.

He was a member of the New York Water Color Club* (1912), the Philadelphia Water Color Society* (1914) (5), the Ottawa Group* (1923), the Canadian Group of Painters* (1939), the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour* (1939) and the Canadian Society of Graphic Art* (1944) (6).

He enlisted in the Canadian Army during World War I, serving in Britain and Europe (1917-1919).  Near the war’s end, he was appointed an official war artist and painted numerous watercolors of the war’s aftermath in France and Belgium for the Canadian War Memorials (7).

In addition to exhibiting with the above artist organizations he also exhibited with the American Watercolor Society* (c.1911 - 1915), the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts* (1911-1915,1918), the Art institute of Chicago (1912-1914,1916), the Ontario Society of Artists* (1930,1933) and the Art Association of Montreal (8) (1931,1932,1939,1940).

His works have  been included in several landmark international exhibitions including the “Armory Show”, New York (1913)* (9);  the “Panama Pacific Exhibition”, San Francisco (1915)*;  the “British Empire Exhibition” in Wembley, England  ( 1924, 1925); the New York World’s Fair (1939); the “Exhibition of International Modern Art”, at the Musée d'Art Moderne, Paris (1946); the Sao Paulo Biennale* (1951); the Venice Biennale* (1952); and the Sao Paulo, Brazil 400th Anniversary Exhibition (1954).

They were also included in many important Canadian exhibitions in the first half of the 20th Century including the “The Canadian War Memorials” show at the Art Association of Montreal and the Canadian National Exhibition, Toronto (1920)(10); the “Exposition d'art Canadien” at the  Musée du Jeu de Paume, Paris (1927); “A Century of Canadian Art” at the Tate Gallery, London, England  (1938); “Aspects of Contemporary Painting in Canada” at the Addison Gallery of American  Art, Andover, Massachusetts (1942); “Canadian Art 1760 - 1943” at Yale University  Art Gallery (1944); “Development of Painting in Canada” at the Art Gallery of Toronto(11) ( 1945); “Forty years of Canadian Painting” at the Boston Museum of Fine Art, Massachusetts (1949); “Canadian Painting” at the National Gallery, Washington, D.C. (1950) and the touring exhibition of Canadian painting, which visited Pakistan, India, and Ceylon (1954 - 1955).

Posthumously, his works are regularly included in exhibitions that examine 20th Century Canadian art; some examples are: “Canadian Paintings of the 1930’s” at the Art Gallery of Ontario ( 1967); “Three Hundred Years of Canadian Art” at the National Gallery of Canada (1967); “Canadian Painting in the 30s” at the National Gallery of Canada (1975), “A Terrible Beauty: The Art of Canada at War” at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa, Ontario and touring (1977); “Canadian Art in Britain” at Canada House, London (1982); “A Collectors Vision: J.S. McLean and Modern Painting in Canada” at the Art Gallery of Ontario (1999); “Redefining the Still life” at the Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery, Concordia University, Montreal (1999); “The Birth of the Modern: Post-Impressionism in Canadian Art, 1900 - 1920” at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa, Ontario (2001); “Facade: Facing the Canadian Landscape” at the Ottawa Art Gallery (2003); “Speaking about Landscape, Speaking to the Land” at the Art Gallery of Ontario (2005); and in “The Thompson Collection” at the Art Gallery of Ontario (2008 - 2009).

Recently, his works were included in “Expanding Horizons: Painting and Landscape Photography of American and Canadian Landscape 1860 - 1918” organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and showing in Vancouver, B.C. from October 17, 2009 to January 17, 2010.

The public  venues for solo and retrospective exhibitions include: Cornell University Ithaca, N.Y. (1922); the Art Association of Montreal (1924); the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa (1955 circulated); the Kitchener - Waterloo Art Gallery, Ontario (1963); The Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston, Ontario  (1967); the National Gallery of Canada (1973); the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, B.C. “Milne: Watercolours” (1980); the National Gallery of Canada “Reflections in a Quiet Pool: The Prints of David Milne” (1980); the Art Gallery of Alberta “The New York Years, 1903 - 1916” (1981); the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Ithaca, N.Y. “The Watercolors of David Milne” (1984); the Art Gallery of Windsor, Ontario (1990); the Vancouver Art Gallery, B.C. (1991); the Owens Art Gallery, Sackville, N.B. “David Milne: Eliminating Sentiment” (1997) and Museum London, Ontario “London Collects David B. Milne” (1998).

In 2005 the Art Gallery of Ontario organized an exhibition of his watercolors entitled “Painting towards the Light” which was circulated to the British Museum, London (July 7 - September 25, 2005) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (November 8, 2005 - January 29, 2006).

The venues for his solo and retrospective exhibitions at private galleries include: James Wilson Galleries, Ottawa (1935), Mellors Gallery, Toronto (1935 - 1938), the Picture Loan Society, Toronto (12) (1938 - 1953); Galerie Godard Lefort, Montreal (1971); Mira Godard Gallery, Toronto (1978, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1994, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2006, 2009) and; Walter Klinkhoff Gallery, Montreal (2001).

Paintings and prints by David Milne are among the most coveted by private collectors in Canada.  His works are also in numerous museums including: the Agnes Etherington Art Centre (Kingston, Ontario), the Art Gallery of Alberta (Edmonton), the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (B.C.), the Art Gallery of Hamilton (Ontario), the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Confederation Centre Art Gallery & Museum (Charlottetown, P.E.I.), the Owens Art Gallery (Sackville, N.B.), the Joliette Art Museum (Quebec), the McMichael Canadian Art Collection (Kleinburg, Ontario), the Mackenzie Art Gallery (Regina, Saskatchewan), the Robert McLaughlin Gallery (Oshawa, Ontario), the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery (Concordia University, Montreal), the Mendel Art Gallery (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan), the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (Halifax), Museum London (Ontario), the Museum of Quebec (Quebec City), the Ottawa Art Gallery (Ontario), the Tom Thomson Memorial Art Gallery (Owen Sound, Ontario), the Winnipeg Art Gallery (Manitoba), the Vancouver Art Gallery (B.C.), the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art, the Beaverbrook Art Gallery (Fredericton, N.B.), the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (California), the British Museum (London, England) and the Museum of Modern Art (New York). There are 436 Milne works in the National Gallery of Canada. According to the Canadian Heritage Information Network there are 827 Milne works in museums across Canada (the author found a few more).

As an important Canadian artist his work is illustrated and discussed in most books about Canadian art history and Canadian modern art.  There are also several monographs including, Reflections in a Quiet Pool: The Prints of David Milne (1980), by Rosemarie L. Tovell; David Milne and the Modern Tradition of Painting (1983), by John O’Brian; David Milne (1991), edited by Ian M. Thom; Painting Place: The Life and Work of David B. Milne (1996), by David P. Silcox; David Milne: An Introduction to his Life and Art (2005), by David P. Silcox; and David Milne: Watercolours Painting Toward the Light (2005), by Katharine Lochnan. There is also the 2 Volume 1169 page David B. Milne Catalogue Raisonne of the Paintings (1998) compiled by David Milne Jr. and David P. Silcox. (13)

Footnotes:

(1) The MacDonald dictionary says he was born near Paisley, Ontario, and died in Baptiste Lake. Paisley is 12 miles from Burgoyne; both places are in Bruce County on Bruce Rd. No. 3. Baptiste Lake is less than 2 miles from Bancroft. Our source is the National Gallery of Canada.

(2) “Boston Corners” is the name on several Milne paintings (see two in AskART images) but the name of the town on Google maps and most geographical sources is “Boston Corner”. “Boston Corners” is however the name of a road and the now defunct train station in Boston Corner.

(3) Through the years a lot of scholarship has been devoted to Milne's life and work. Despite the fact that his genius was noticed relatively early in his career, he lived almost all of his life in or near poverty; continually moving to places he thought would be more economical to live or had more opportunity.  This combined with his love of the outdoors and different places in different seasons, made for a lot of moving and residences.  Because the subjects of Milne’s landscape paintings are usually near where he lived, and he frequently uses the place names in the titles, we have included as many towns and dates as we could find and verify in this biography.  There are a few minor variances in dates of residence between the numerous biographical sources, they are:  (1) arrived in New York in 1904, (2) arrived in Boston Corner in 1915 and (3) left Boston Corner for Canada in 1929. This biography uses the same dates as the MacDonald and Silcox books (see AskART book references).

(4) “Approximately half of Milne's paintings are oils and half are watercolours, and his lifetime production, after the destruction of many paintings throughout his career, stands at close to 3000, with an equal number of drawings and prints.” Source - David P. Silcox  (see AskART book references)

(5) He was elected to the PWCC at the same time as John Marin, Maurice Prendergast and N.C. Wyeth.

(6) Milne was never a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts; neither was Lawren S. Harris or Emily Carr.

(7) "The origins of Canada's war art collections can be traced to the leadership of Lord Beaverbrook, a Canadian-born entrepreneur, newspaper magnate and later British cabinet minister. During the First World War he established the Canadian War Memorials Fund, through which many prestigious artists depicted Canada's contribution to the war effort overseas and at home.  However, his plan for a new building to ensure the permanent display of nearly a thousand paintings never came to fruition, and the collection was turned over to the National Gallery of Canada." Source: Nike Langevin, Head of Communications, McCord Museum of Canadian History, Montreal. 

(8) The AAM became the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1948.

(9) Many sources say there were three Canadian born artists in the Armory show. Most don’t name the other two the MacDonald dictionary says they were Ernest Lawson and Arthur Crisp. The author found five, the extra two, Charles Henry White and Edward Middleton Manigault (see all in AskART).

(10) This exhibition of his watercolors from World War I was Milne’s first Canada.

(11) Renamed the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1966.

(12) The Picture Loan Society of Toronto founded by Douglas M. Duncan (1902-1968) in 1936, was the first gallery in Canada to operate on a system of low-cost commission, making the purchase of art more affordable by renting pictures to prospective clients while at the same time providing affordable exhibition space for artists.  Artists on its roster included Carl Schaefer, L.L. Fitzgerald, Harold Town, Paul Emile Borduas, Isabel McLaughlin, and Bertram Brooker (see all in AskART). In particular, Duncan admired the work of artist David Milne, for whom he acted as sole agent.  The Society ended with Duncan’s death however its location and some of its functions were taken over by the Picture Loan Gallery. Sources: The National Gallery of Canada Archives and the Art Gallery of Ontario Archives.

(13) Milne was a prolific writer about art theory. In addition to his legacy of art is an estimated half a million words on the subject. Most biographies of Milne, like those mentioned above, incorporate Milne’s own words. This one is no different ...

 “Art is not an imitation of anything or a daydream or a memory or a vision ... It has an existence of its own, an emotion we cannot get from anything in life outside it.” – David Milne

 
* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see AskART.com Glossary http://www.askart.com/AskART/lists/Art_Definition.aspx

Prepared and contributed by M.D. Silverbrooke

 

 

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.


David Milne is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
New York Armory Show of 1913
San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915

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