LOT 106

1882 - 1953

Striped Dress
watercolour on paper
on verso titled as inscribed by Patsy Milne and titled on the gallery labels, dated 1913 on the gallery labels, inscribed "277 " by the Duncan Estate,"c" by Kathleen Milne and certified by David Milne Jr. on a label
18 3/4 x 14 1/2 in, 47.6 x 36.8 cm

Estimate: $70,000 - $90,000 CAD

Sold for: $85,250

Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave

Mira Godard Gallery, Toronto, 1996
Private Collection, Toronto
Sold sale of Canadian, Impressionist & Modern Art, Heffel Fine Art Auction House, Wednesday, May 30, 2018, lot 106

Painting the Figure: David Milne, Sixteen Paintings from 1911 - 1914, Mira Godard Gallery, 1996, reproduced page 25
David P. Silcox, Painting Place: The Life and Work of David B. Milne, 1996, reproduced page 44
David Milne Jr. and David P. Silcox, David B. Milne: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume 1: 1882 - 1928, 1998, reproduced page 110, catalogue #105.50
Jean O’Grady and David Staines, editors, Northrop Frye on Canada, 2003, “David Milne: An Appreciation,” May 1948, page 74

Mira Godard Gallery, Toronto, Painting the Figure: David Milne, Sixteen Paintings from 1911 - 1914, November 9 - 23, 1996

David Milne’s large, bold watercolour of his wife Patsy in a rocking chair is so vibrant as to fly off the paper, yet in holding this moment for our view, Milne also underlines the reflective nature of the sitter’s pose. The liquid flow of line and form is literally what the watercolour painter must control; combining absorption and dynamism in this medium is a tour de force. The sheer visual pleasure of this work suggests comparisons with those artists of the early-twentieth-century School of Paris whose style Milne admired and assimilated, especially Henri Matisse in his many interior portraits of Madame Matisse. For example, the echoing play of visual forms across the surface is endlessly fascinating: the fingers of Patsy’s left hand are repeated in the dashes of yellow paint just below. The stripes of her dress are matched by the long blue shadow on the inside of the chair’s right rocker. The open areas left on her face reverberate with those on the otherwise largely uninflected red-brown wall against which she sits and is contrasted.

Milne is the exception to the rule that early-twentieth-century art in English-speaking Canada was about the supposedly essential and nation-defining characteristics of northern landscapes. Milne’s gaze was always more intimate than that of Emily Carr or the Group of Seven. Born in Bruce County, Ontario, he was ambitious enough to enrol at the Art Students League in New York City at age 21. Milne lived in New York City until 1916. There he came to know both American and European Impressionism, Post-Impressionism and Fauvism, movements that would inflect his own unique painting style. By about 1910, Milne’s work was being exhibited and noticed regularly in the New York press. In 1913, around the same time as this portrait, he exhibited in North America’s most important and controversial early exhibition of the avant-garde, the Armory Show. Seen in New York, Boston and Chicago, it was in this show that Milne came into direct contact with paintings by the international avant-garde of the day, especially Paul Cézanne, Matisse and Édouard Vuillard.

Long appreciated in Canada, Milne has an increasingly international reputation. The major exhibition David Milne: Modern Painting is at the famed Dulwich Picture Gallery in London, England, from February to May 2018. Milne’s high standing in the art world is built on the details of intimate observation, seen on full display in Striped Dress. How can such a vibrant image also seem meditative? One answer is found in Milne’s masterly handling of Patsy’s head. She looks down rather than towards the viewer and painter. She seems to smile subtly, but not in a way that suggests an awareness of the visual pyrotechnics that her form occasions. The deep-blue line that outlines her head both separates this form from the wall behind and marries it to the stripes of the title. The Canadian literary theorist Northrop Frye wrote the following about Milne’s work in 1948, when the artist was still active and lived near Toronto: “Few if any contemporary painters, inside or outside Canada, convey better than he does the sense of painting as an emancipation of visual experience, as a training of the intelligence to see the world in a spirit of leisure and urbanity.” The visual intelligence of this portrait is palpable and memorable.

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.

Estimate: $70,000 - $90,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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