Inscriptionsdated, 'APRIL 26 '30' (upper left)
ProvenanceDavid Milne sale to Vincent Massey, 1934 as sale list "no. 211, not titled";
Michael Wright, London, England, circa 1937;
Michael Wright Jr, London, England;
Robertson Galleries, Ottawa, circa 1957;
A. McCall, Montreal, 1958;
by descent to the present owner.
ExhibitionsMontreal, Galerie Walter Klinkhoff Inc., David Milne (1882-1953) Retrospective Exhibition, September 2001, no. 38.
LiteratureThis work is included in the David B. Milne Catalogue Raisonne of the Paintings compiled by David Milne Jr. and David P. Silcox, Vol. 2, no. 302.2
-Mark A. Cheetham
David Milne’s work is so widely known and acclaimed in Canada and internationally today that it is salutary to recall that he struggled for both recognition and a livelihood throughout his long and productive career. The Palgrave paintings of 1930-33 are among Milne’s most accomplished and praised. He was pleased with much of this work. Examples were exhibited in Canada and the USA at this time but garnered no sales. The Great Depression hit the Milnes hard. David Milne did farm labour in return for firewood, for example. Painted within about a month of Milne’s arrival, Palgrave across the Pond is of its time – the Depression – as much as it responds with great nuance to its place.
David and Patsy Milne moved back to Canada from the USA in 1929 and arrived in the village of Palgrave in the Caledon Hills north of Toronto in the spring of 1930. Milne sought in rural Ontario the agrarian landscapes that so pleased him during his many years in upper New York State. Palgrave was ideal aesthetically and financially. The quiet variety of this landscape of hills, woods, and streams stimulated him. He appreciated the relatively open skies and long views that we see in Palgrave across the Pond, especially as they dovetailed with signs of inhabitation, from farm and town buildings to the bridge we see. Milne likely would have stayed longer had his marriage not dissolved over these three years.
Milne is known for self-sufficiency and what he called ‘economy’ in his artwork and his everyday life. Many factors contributed to this aesthetic. For example, he worried constantly about the price of all his supplies, from canvas to the amount of pigment he used. In some cases, he painted both sides of a canvas to economize, yet he was unrelenting in his adherence to his principles and vision and would alter a painting repeatedly until satisfied.
This rigour and reserve accounts for what we could call the rich spareness of this painting. It is more aesthetically nuanced because of his light and precise touch. He explained in a letter from this period: “The reason for this way of putting on the paint is a feeling for economy – of aesthetic means ... a hankering to do things by the slightest touch on the canvas, the brush meeting it and no more ... Some feeling of economy prevents me from varying hues in the same picture (by adding white or less white). This is so strong that I sacrifice economy of touch ... to economy of value in the hues. These things are slight when put in words but they are very strong and control you pretty completely.” (1)
With his “economy of touch,” Milne strove to register a fleeting but powerful emotion. In this he followed British writer Clive Bell, who in Art (1914) explained the importance of “aesthetic emotion” as followed: “Only significant form can [trigger aesthetic emotion]. Of course realistic forms may be aesthetically significant, and out of them an artist may create a superb work of art, but it is with their aesthetic and not with their cognitive value that we shall then be concerned.” (2)
Milne the consummate observer included one such significant form in Palgrave across the Pond: the hydro poles near the bridge in the bottom right foreground of this village scene. Electricity came to Palgrave only in 1927, three years before the Milnes arrived. Milne’s quick and unerring line integrates these structures into what was a changing landscape and society. The cognitive and aesthetic intertwine.
Mark A. Cheetham for Alan Klinkhoff Gallery Inc.
All Rights Reserved
1. Cited in David P. Silcox, Painting Place: The Life and Work of David Milne, 1996, 240.
2. Clive Bell, Art. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company Publishers, 1914: 43.
From the Catalogue Raisonné: "The view is looking south form the west side of the 7th Line of Albion Township, now Highway 50, over the north end of the village. The bridge over the Humber River is visible at the right of the mill pond. Milne painted from a hill that once stood where the highway now goes north from Palgrave through a cut, rather than around the hill along the riverbank as it did then. [...]"