ArtworksDavid MilneStore Fronts (New York), 1914-151882-1953Sold
Inscriptionsinscribed by Duncan, ‘DAVID B MILNE STORE FRONTS 1914-15 O-26’ (verso, stretcher); inscribed by Duncan estate, ‘699’ (verso)
Lloyd Singer, Toronto through Cecil Troy, Toronto, 1969.
Emmett's Custom Framing, Ltd., Toronto, circa 1975.
Galerie Walter Klinkhoff Inc,, Montreal;
Acquired from the above by Mitzi and Mel Dobrin in 1975.
ExhibitionsMontreal, Galerie Walter Klinkhoff, David Milne (1882-1953) Retrospective Exhibition, 15-29 September 2001, cat. no. 9.
LiteratureDavid Milne Jr. and David P. Silcox, David B. Milne: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings Volume 1: 1882-1928, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998), no. 106.2, reproduced p. 140.Store Fronts of 1914-15 exemplifies another of Milne’s trademarks, the desire and ability to show motifs close up and thus to emphasize interlocking patterns of colour and form. Here it is the stacked up, low rise buildings, with their rectilinear walls and windows, that contrast appealingly with Milne’s signature tree forms. At the same time, there is a correspondence between the outlining – whether in positive or negative registrations – of the windows and trees. Since this is a winter scene, we can see through these deciduous trees and yet simultaneously record the curvilinear skeletons of their graceful crowns, which, like the buildings, march up and back as they define the pictorial space. Though there is perhaps a fleeting suggestion of one or more pedestrians with hats in the bottom right of the image, figures found in many of Milne’s New York streetscapes of this period, we cannot fully perceive such details. Neither do the store windows yield any information, which is ironic, given that Milne earned his living at this time by painting ‘showcards,’ advertisements for just such displays. Instead, it is the natural forms of the trees that act as the main protagonists in this picture. The trees seem to move through the grid of streets defined by the vibrantly hued buildings, giving us a sense of spatial depth and dynamism. The buildings relegate the sky to a band at the top and the foreground to a corresponding strip at the bottom, but these structures are not oppressive. They too are animated. The apparently sodden snow and heavy atmosphere similarly does nothing to deaden this scene; on the contrary, the facades are as brightly coloured in winter as we might expect the trees to be in fall. The tree just off centre in the foreground can be seen to give us both seasons at once, for instance, borrowing as it seems to do the rusty orange hues of the building against which we see it.
By 1915, Milne was well known in the United States. His watercolours appeared in the Panama-Pacific Exposition – the World’s Fair held in San Francisco in this year – where he received the silver medal. More importantly for Milne’s legacy, in 1913, he exhibited five paintings 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 here that Milne came into direct contact with the international avant-garde of the day, especially the paintings of Cézanne, Matisse, and Vuillard that he had begun to see in New York galleries. Store Fronts shows the painterly confidence that he had achieved. Milne’s New York work, whether in watercolour or oil, is at once bold and exquisitely subtle, characteristics that he developed throughout his career.
Mark A. Cheetham7of 16