LOT 121

1882 - 1953

Hepaticas in a Cup
oil on canvas
signed and dated 1935 and on verso titled and inscribed "1" / "14" / "161"
22 1/8 x 24 1/8 in, 56.2 x 61.3 cm

Estimate: $40,000 - $60,000 CAD

Sold for: $37,250

Preview at:

Sale of the Artist to Vincent Massey, Toronto, 1935
Laing Galleries, Toronto
Acquired from the above by a Private Collection, Toronto, April 9, 1958
By descent to the present Private Collection, Toronto

David Milne Jr. and David P. Silcox, David B. Milne: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume 2: 1929 - 1953, 1998, reproduced page 602, catalogue #304.22

Hart House, University of Toronto, David Milne, January 7 - 22, 1962

David Milne frequently corresponded with Alice Massey in mid-1930. Thanks to his frankness about his work, we know how he composed—and what he thought of—Hepaticas in a Cup. To Mrs. Massey in May 1935, Milne describes the “players” in the still-life drama we witness in this painting as well as its background. He details “spring flowers and leaves sprawled over most of the bottom part of the canvas, near at hand, out of focus and away in one corner…the Christmas pudding bowl and another bowl with hepaticas and dogs toothed violets.”[1] In a draft for an article titled “Spring Fever,” penned ten years later, Milne reflected on his habit of painting spring still lifes and why he received a special “kick” from this 1935 painting: “The picture was simple, very,” he explained, “and depended largely on composition.”[2] What he does not spell out, but we manifestly experience, is that his simplicity of subject matter and form yields in the onlooker an inversely expansive aesthetic intrigue and thus pleasure.

In another letter to Massey in May 1935, Milne mentions several of the elements we might puzzle over in this painting. “More than half of [it] is blank—dirty black. Most of the rest contains out of focus shapes of Hepatica flowers and leaves in a cup done in dirty black and dirty white, no hues.”[3] He also describes how he rubbed out forms and then returned to them, a comment that helps us to understand the looming and also “dirty” elements in Window at Night (lot 122 in this sale). Milne made a habit of setting himself formal challenges, working closely and repeatedly with motifs that tested his ability and developed his aesthetic. His work equally tests and educates the viewer’s eye.

We thank Mark A. Cheetham, Professor of Art History at the University of Toronto, for contributing the above essay. Cheetham has written extensively on Canadian art and artists—including Jack Chambers, Alex Colville, Robert Houle and Camille Turner—and was most recently a contributor to the 2022 book Unsettling Canadian Art History.

Window at Night has been in the same family since it was acquired from Laing Galleries in 1958. The coat pictured in this painting belonged to David Milne, as confirmed by David Milne Jr. He recalls that his father used the coat a number of times in Six Mile Lake interiors, sometimes against shelves. In this painting, it is equally effective against the cabin window at night.

1. Quoted in 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), 602.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

Estimate: $40,000 - $60,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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