ArtworksDavid MilneChannels (Six Mile Lake, Muskoka, Ontario), 19351882-1953Sold
Inscriptionssigned and dated, 'David Milne 1935’ (upper left); inscribed, ‘[circled] 54B // 54 / Channels’ (verso); inscribed by Vincent Massey, ‘137’ (verso); inscribed by Laing on stretcher, ‘[circled] 128 $ 925’ (verso); on label, ‘Channels’ (verso); sketch of bowl with flowers and jacket (verso)
ProvenanceDavid Milne to The Right Honourable Vincent Massey, 1935.
Laing Galleries, Toronto, 1958.
L. Singer, Toronto, 1958.
Pennell Gallery, Toronto, circa 1970.
Acquired from the above by Mitzi and Mel Dobrin, 1972.
ExhibitionsLaing Galleries, Toronto, 1958
Duval, 'Canadian Who Liked Solitude', 1958.David Milne and David Silcox, David B. Milne, Catalogue Raisonné of the paintings, Volume 2: 1929-1953 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998), cat. no. 304.31, repr. p. 606
" in 'Channels', Milne experiments with the construction of space, pushing his and our perceptions hard."
-Mark A. Cheetham
As the provenance above suggests, Channels was one of the many paintings from 1935 that were sold to the Masseys under something of a cloud, since Milne believed that proper negotiations for these new paintings had not been concluded. The Massey’s own invoice number – the large number 137 on the back of the canvas – thus remains a meaningful part of this painting. Another dimension of this and contemporary work is that it presents yet another distinctive locale in Milne’s ever-growing landscape repertoire, the area near Six Mile Lake in the vicinity of southern Georgian Bay. Milne had not planned to leave Palgrave, an environment he loved to paint, but his separation from Patsy in 1933, and the fact that she stayed in Palgrave rather than returning to the United States, encouraged him to seek a new home. He settled on the relatively isolated Six Mile Lake, where again, he built a cabin. Here Milne lived until 1937, longer than anywhere else in his peripatetic career.
The features of the landscape in the area were much more rugged than around Palgrave, as we see in Channels. Dominated by rocky outcroppings smoothed by ancient glaciers and punctuated with prominent channels in between, the terrain also supported a range of vegetation. Characteristically, Milne exploited these physical lines in the landscape to both complicate and weave together a scene that he has laid out in four prominent bands. We see a dark foreground (which is lit up by foliage for contrast), a sweeping area of rounded rock through which the channels meander, a distant screen of trees, and an opaque sky. This bold and direct structure is legible enough, but it also contains something of a mystery.
A prominent red and black form in the foreground cuts across one of the black channels to overlap two of the image’s horizontal bands. While Milne’s landscapes are, as noted, often emotional and even anthropocentric, this element is unlikely to be a figure. Instead, it can be read as the trunk of a perhaps decapitated tree, given that three intact tree trunks in the curtain of trees in the background are similarly rendered in red and black pigment. This interpretation can also explain the unusual spatial placement of the vibrant green leaves in the foreground, since we might see them as belonging to branches that have in effect fallen into our space as viewers. Whatever our conclusions here, we can agree that in Channels, Milne experiments with the construction of space, pushing his and our perceptions hard. This landscape is at first difficult to understand, but with our concerted looking – which should be as concerted as the artist’s, he seems to suggest – it both comes clear and is satisfying as a vision of this terrain. Again, Milne didn’t seek regularity or beauty” in such views. Sometimes he avoided just these ‘easy’ characteristics in his subjects. What he did demand of himself as an artist – and did achieve with laudable regularity – was authenticity.
Mark A. Cheetham3of 16