David Brown Milne
CGP CSGA CSPWC
1882 - 1953
oil on canvas, circa 1915 - 1916
on verso inscribed by Douglas Duncan "1916" and inscribed by the owner "Gray Hill, by David Milne 1915 - 1916" on the stretcher
18 1/4 x 22 1/8 in 46.4 x 56.2 cm
Estimate: $60,000 - $80,000
Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave
Douglas Duncan Picture Loan Society, Toronto
Acquired from the above by a Private Collection, Florida, May 3, 1961
By descent to the present Private Collection, Toronto
David Milne Jr. and David P. Silcox, David B. Milne: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume 1: 1882 – 1928, 1998, reproduced page 154, catalogue #106.60
David Milne is unique in the art of Canada. He was born in Bruce County, in rural southwestern Ontario, but studied as a young man at the progressive Art Students League of New York (1903 - 1905). His main inspiration was the avant-garde art he saw in New York galleries (which he later exhibited at), from American and European Impressionism, Post-Impressionism and Fauvism, movements that informed what became his unique painting style. Milne’s work was exhibited regularly and successfully in New York, though in a pattern that followed him back to Canada in later years - the tough economic times of World War I, the Great Depression and World War II ensured that he was not usually able to devote himself to painting full time. Always noted by experts in his lifetime, Milne’s work has recently been exhibited to wide acclaim at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, in London, England, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York.
In part for aesthetic inspiration, in part for work, Milne moved many times in his life. Gray Hill was painted on the cusp of his exit from New York City to the hamlet of Boston Corners, in rural New York State, where he and Patsy Milne relocated in the spring of 1916. By 1915, Milne was well known in the United States. His watercolours appeared in the Panama-Pacific International Exposition – the World’s Fair held in San Francisco in this year – where he received the silver medal. In 1913, he had exhibited five paintings in North America’s most important and controversial early exhibition of the avant-garde, the Armory Show. In retrospect, Gray Hill’s rural setting and landscape theme make it a transitional work, an important step away from the urban subject matter – in all its chaotic vibrancy – that had compelled Milne for over a decade, and away from the competitive art scene of the metropolis towards the pastoral, nature-focused themes that he painted memorably for the rest of his life.
Enthusiastic about winter scenes, in Gray Hill Milne painted rolling hills as his background and an undulating terrain in the foreground. Earth shows through the snow, suggesting melting. Relative to the grey-blue hill of the title, the trees are highly keyed with a saturated blue pigment. The paint surface is vigorously handled but ultimately calm. Against this stillness stands a line of both deciduous and coniferous tress, not silhouetted but as if X-rayed against the hills behind. They claim our attention because Milne outlined their full forms as well as branches and trunks. We can see through these living shapes, especially the large deciduous tree just right of centre. Milne adapted this signature technique, it seems, from an ancient Egyptian source, the famous stone bas-relief Expedition to the Land of Punt, from the mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut. A plaster cast of this relief sculpture was installed at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto in the early twentieth century and still features in that collection. Another copy was given by the ROM to the Metropolitan Museum in New York in 1906, when Milne was a student in that city. Gray Hill encapsulates Milne’s brilliance: it is subdued, but in its own way, also vibrant.
We thank Mark Cheetham, Professor of Art History at the University of Toronto and author of Remembering Postmodernism: Trends in Canadian Art, 1970–1990, for contributing the above essay.
1. David P. Silcox, Painting Place: The Life and Work of David B. Milne (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996), 392n21.
Estimate: $60,000 - $80,000
All prices are in Canadian Dollars
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