Chance to see one of the best
HENRY LEHMANN – Special to The Gazette THE GAZETTE, MONTREAL September 22, 2001
The most delightful show now in town is David Milne (1882-1953) Retrospective Exhibition. This gem is the latest in Galerie Walter Klinkhoff’s commendable series of not for sale exhibitions that have featured , among others, Maurice Cullen and Marc-Aurele de Foy Suzor-Coté. Now Klinkhoff, itself almost the last of a Montreal breed of genteel top-drawer galleries, is alive with Milne’s inimitable, uniquely modernist vision.
Born in Paisley, Ont., Milne as a young man went to New York City, where he studied art, got by doing commercial art, and where, in 1913, he was one of the two Canadian artists who participated in the celebrated Armory Show. After New York and a stint as a war artist, Milne gravitated to the woods, both in the U.S. and later in Canada, to which he returned permanently in 1928.
The Klinkhoff show, amazingly the only Milne retrospective in Montreal since one in 1956 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, is stocked with about 60 works, many of them oils on paper which were borrowed from numerous collectors and span most of the artist’s prolific career. And, with a few exceptions, such as the Fauvish 1912 painting "Yellow Billboards, N.Y." often the view we get is of the country and wilderness where the artist could practice his brand of visual pantheism, so different from the triumphant, ego tripping art of the Group of Seven that long eclipsed Milne and almost anything else artistic in Canada. Among the wonders in the current show is "Distant View of Boston Corner" (1921), in which slight tufts of dry point become a kind of non-verbal shorthand for topography, both living and inert. And there is "Black Root I, Six, Mile Lake" (1933) its entire surface a squirming mass of red and brown shapes that could refer either to trees or to molecular structure.
Milne achieved recognition if not outright fame during an unglamourous lifetime lived in the name of art but which had room for a wife and child. And he lived in a time when, in both America and Canada, anything vaguely abstract did not have much of a market. In l934 Milne, who was not starving, sold 300 works to Vincent Massey for all of $1,500, far lower than the price tag on most single works. It’s been clear for some time now that he is one of the best artists ever produced by Canada. Now, it’s time for the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts or the National Gallery of Canada to follow the Klinkhoff’s and mount another major exhibition of Milne, an artist who ultimately fits just one categorty in art history. David Milne (1882-1953) Retrospective Exhibition is at the Walter Klinkhoff Gallery, 1200 Sherbrooke St. W. through September 29th.