CGP CSGA CSPWC
1882 - 1953
oil on canvas, 1933
signed and on verso titled and inscribed by Vincent Massey "142"
18 x 22 in 45.7 x 55.9 cm
Estimate: $200,000 - $250,000
Sold for: $541,250
Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave
Sale of the Artist to Vincent Massey, Toronto, 1934
Laing Galleries, Toronto
Acquired from the above by a Private Collection, Florida, February 2, 1959
By descent to an Important Private Collection, California
David P. Silcox, Painting Place: The Life and Work of David B. Milne, 1996, reproduced page 268
Henry Lehmann, "Homage to a Master," review of Painting Place: The Life and Work of David B. Milne, by David P. Silcox, Gazette (Montreal), December 7, 1996, reproduced page H6
David Milne Jr. and David P. Silcox, David B. Milne: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume 2: 1929 -1953, 1998, reproduced page 580, catalogue #303.29
Alder Branch is a virtuosic example of David Milne’s achievement and his contribution to Canadian art. Painted in early October of 1933 at Six Mile Lake, in Ontario’s Muskoka district, 140 kilometres north of Toronto, the work succeeds by simultaneously advancing two qualities essential to Milne’s art: his singular engagement with colour and form, and his daring use of the device he called “interrupted vision.” Affirming the painting’s success, Milne scholar and co-author of the artist’s catalogue raisonné David P. Silcox singled it out in his comprehensive monograph on the artist as “stunningly beautiful.”
In 1929, four years before painting Alder Branch, Milne returned to Canada and his home province of Ontario after nearly 25 years in New York City and upstate New York. Milne’s American sojourn was punctuated by 13 months in Europe, when he participated in the Canadian War Records program during the First World War, and six months in Ottawa, from 1923 to 1924, when he reconnoitered the Canadian art world. During this period of tremendous growth, Silcox identified Milne’s use of the interrupted vision motif in the artist’s Bronx works of 1914 and 1915, and in two or three of the War Records works of late 1918 or early 1919.
The first five years after Milne’s return to Ontario were momentous and productive. In the rolling farmland of Palgrave, 35 kilometres northwest of Toronto, in and around 1932, Milne painted a trio of views of rooftops in muted tones that use the pronounced chimney for his unique dazzle area and renew his use of interrupted vision. His marriage dissolved in April 1933, and he completed his fourth move in as many years when he left the open countryside of Palgrave for the lakes and woods of Six Mile Lake in early May 1933. He painted Alder Branch that October, and the next year he offered to sell his painted oeuvre to Alice and Vincent Massey for five dollars per work to buy himself time to paint.
Milne’s August 1934 proposal to the Masseys was a 29-page letter with a gloss on his career and an auto-critique describing his “interrupted vision pictures” as his most interesting group of compositions. The artistic conceit is as direct as Milne’s plain language. Namely, artists’ and amateurs’ desires to refine and streamline their views too often eliminated the visual interruption that caught their eye and stoked their interest in the first place. Milne understood this phenomenon. He countered it by harnessing select visual interruptions to enliven compositions, and that is exactly what he did when he painted Alder Branch in October 1933.
This lone composition of a far shore interrupted by flora reverberates with Milne’s manner as well as the influence of contemporary Canadian paintings he knew by Tom Thomson, Arthur Lismer and Frederick H. Varley. Over a dilute ground of pale salmon, Milne used black paint to sketch a view to a far shore interrupted by a modest alder branch. He parsed the scene’s values with the colours of the rainbow, reinforced the outlines, used copious white to amplify brilliant light, used grey to deepen reflections, and then a filigree of black drawing with blue and green colouring for the eponymous alder, to create as dramatic a push-pull effect as Hans Hofmann might have conceived.
The events leading to the autumn of 1933 and Milne’s return to lakes and woods at Six Mile Lake gave him the opportunity to consider landscapes devoid of the signs of settlement for the first time since he had been in Temagami four years earlier. Amidst the turmoil of the Great Depression, his return to Canada, multiple relocations and the dissolution of his marriage, Milne painted this sparkling essay on colour and form, featuring his own motif of interrupted vision.
We thank Gregory Humeniuk, art historian, writer and curator, for contributing the above essay.
1. Regarding the autumn 1933 dating, see David Milne to James Clarke,  October 1933 (photocopy), David Silcox–David Milne collection, Edward P. Taylor Library & Archives, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; regarding Silcox’s praise, see David P. Silcox, Painting Place: The Life and Work of David Milne (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996), 268.
2. Silcox, Painting Place, 79, 93.
3. David Milne Jr. and David P. Silcox, David B. Milne: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, vol. 2, 1929–1953 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998), 540–41, nos. 302.139–41.
4. Milne to Alice Masse August 20, 1934, quoted in Silcox, Painting Place, 79.
Estimate: $200,000 - $250,000
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