ArtworksDavid MilneGrant's Tomb (New York), 1912 (circa)1882-1953Sold
Inscriptionsinscribed by Patsy Milne, ‘Grants Tomb’ (verso); inscribed by Duncan estate, ‘385’ (verso)
Marlborough-Godard Gallery, Toronto, 1978.
The Collection of Mitzi and Mel Dobrin.
ExhibitionsToronto, Mira Godard Gallery, David Milne : a survey exhibition, November 4 - November 28, 1978, cat. no. 3.
Mira Godard Gallery, David Milne : a survey exhibition, (Toronto: Mira Godard Gallery, 1978), cat. no. 3, reproduced.
Ken Carpenter, "Toronto: David Milne at Godard", Art in America, No. 67, September 1979, p. 139.
David 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. 104.42, reproduced p. 79.
The earliest painting in this remarkable collection of Milnes, Grant's Tomb (1912), alerts us to several key points about Milne’s art in general: first, although he was born in Bruce County in rural southwestern Ontario, at age 21 and never having been further away from home than Toronto, the enterprising Milne enrolled at the Arts Students’ League in New York City (1903-05) and stayed in New York until 1916, when he moved to Boston Corners in New York State. Milne joined the Canadian Army in 1917 and returned to the USA afterwards.
In the metropolis, Milne learned about the then-radical, modernist tendencies of both American and European Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and Fauvism, movements that would inflect his own unique painting style. He also began to appreciate urban scenes, influenced by the American Ashcan School – also called ‘The Eight’ – which included Robert Henri, Maurice Prendergast, and William J. Glackens. Like these artists, Milne exhibited at the Montross Gallery. By c. 1910, Milne’s work was exhibited regularly and reviewed approvingly in the New York press. That he was one of the most accomplished artists of his generation is also recognized internationally today. Milne’s training and unique style offer different paradigms of aesthetic value from those of his contemporaries and peers in central Canada, notably Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven. This acclaim is especially interesting to many Canadian art lovers, not least because he was a Canadian who spent his formative years in the USA and who rejected nationalist definitions of landscape painting.
Grant's Tomb shows upper Manhattan’s shoreline and skyline from across the Hudson River in New Jersey. This vantage allows Milne to compress a considerable amount of animating structural detail – the echoing horizontals and verticals of the boats and more distant buildings, for example – into an image equally notable for its lively colour. The boats are all at anchor, yet Milne’s facility in watercolour and the unpainted gaps he leaves when depicting the river’s calm surface – elements significant to many of the paintings collected here – suggest the quiet motion of the current. The river’s flow leaves ‘shadows’ downstream from the boats, thanks to Milne’s very liquid washes of colour in these areas. A variety of trees is suggested by the lighter and darker greens and blue greens of the hillside on the far bank.
But what of the painting’s title? The imposing mausoleum for Ulysses S. Grant (18th President of the United States) and his wife rises at the top of the image, just left of centre. Completed in 1897, it was a relatively new feature on the New York horizon when Milne painted this image. But while the title identifies the location, this prominent and historically resonant building is not the focus of the work. In the democratization of motifs that we witness here, there is another reminder about Milne: he was not a painter of history, or even primarily of landscape as a particular place. While he was passionately attentive to nature and his surroundings generally, not unlike Matisse, his brand of modernist painting always takes us first to the internal structures and pleasures of the image he created. One appreciates Milne paintings primarily as Milne paintings, not as views that open to some other interest. As David Silcox suggests and other Milne scholars claim, “painting, for Milne, was a purely aesthetic activity, not concerned with social problems…. It was not even a process of recording or describing an object or a scene with fidelity or truth. Rather, a painting was a charged world of its own…”. While a valid starting point for Milne’s work, this perspective is also limiting and should be augmented, as some of the works here suggest.
Mark A. Cheetham5of 16