Artwork by David Brown Milne,  Rain on the River (Morning on the River)

David Milne
Rain on the River (Morning on the River)

oil on canvas
inscribed “David Milne, Morning on the River (October 1945)” by Douglas Duncan on the stretcher; inscribed “624” on a label on the stretcher by the Douglas Duncan estate
12 x 16 ins ( 30.5 x 40.6 cms )

Auction Estimate: $40,000.00$35,000.00 - $40,000.00

Price Realized $40,800.00
Sale date: December 3rd 2020

Galerie Agnès Lefort, Montreal
Private Collection, Toronto
“David Milne (1882-1953): A Survey Exhibition”, Galerie Lefort, Montreal, April 22 - May 15, 1971, no. 34 (as “Morning on the River”)
David Milne Jr. and David P. Silcox, “David B. Milne: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume 2: 1929-1953”, Toronto, 1998, listed and reproduced page 876, cat. no. 405.76
David P. Silcox, “Painting Place: The Life and Work of David B. Milne”, Toronto, 1996, page 317
Donald W. Buchanan, “The Growth of Canadian Painting”, London/ Toronto, 1950, page 42
Following a tumultuous decade of financial and marital hardship, the 1940s brought many positive changes in David Milne’s career and personal life. In 1939 David and his wife Patsy separated and shortly thereafter he fell in love with Kathleen Pavey, a nurse. That same year he left Six Mile Lake and the couple settled briefly in Toronto, before moving to Uxbridge where they lived from 1940 to 1952. Kathleen gave birth to their son, David Milne Jr., in 1941. In addition to his new family, Milne’s dealer and agent, Douglas Duncan, played a particularly positive role in Milne’s life during the 1940s. Duncan provided the artist with some long-awaited financial stability and success in the Toronto art milieu. David Silcox describes Kathleen and Duncan as the artist’s “wonderful guardian angels.”

“Rain on the River (Morning on the River)” was completed in 1945 in the characteristic painterly style of Milne’s later works. That year, following a twelve-year hiatus, the artist took up watercolour again, and the medium was to dominate the remainder of his painting career. His brushstrokes in this composition are wider and looser than his early oils; their spontaneity and translucent application evoke a similar feel to watercolour painting. The artist always maintained his attention to line, as visible in the jagged tree outlines and their reflections in the river. “Rain on the River (Morning on the River)” also illustrates his preference for using black in a composition, regardless of the level of realism. The forest, water, and foreground shoreline all include the same shade of black pigment, amid the remaining reductive colour palette of orange, brown, and white. Author Donald W. Buchanan writes: “The colours he uses are rarely linked directly to Nature; he employs them more often for decorative [rather] than for realistic effects. This cool and intellectual approach of his is the product of long years of thought and reflection, of years of solitude devoted to the study of his craft.”

During these happy years of the mid-1940s Milne was also writing his autobiography, which was published in 1947. The book not only demonstrated his gift for writing, but also exposed the degree of sacrifice that Milne suffered in order to devote his whole life to being an artist. Throughout much of David Milne’s career, apart from occasionally bartering his labour in exchange for necessary supplies, the artist impressively managed to dedicate all of his time to painting.

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David Brown Milne
(1881 - 1953) Canadian Group of Painters

Milne was born near Paisley, Ontario. A childhood interest in art, which revived while he was teaching, led him to take a correspondence course and eventually he travelled to New York City to continue his studies. This was somewhat of an exception in the early twentieth-century Canadian art scene as the majority of artists went to Europe to study. While in New York City, Milne worked as a commercial illustrator for several years before deciding to give up this work and devote his time to painting. Shortly after making this decision he moved to Boston Corners in New York.

Throughout his life Milne sought the peace and solitude of a rural life. In his paintings, Milne explored different viewpoints. He greatly admired the work of Tom Thomson but had little interest in the nationalistic approach of the Group of Seven. His themes range from landscapes to views of towns and cities, still lifes and imaginary subjects. His experiments with different media and changing viewpoints show his interest in the process of painting itself. In 1929, Milne returned to settle permanently in Canada, stopping for brief periods in Temagami, Weston, and Palgrave. He built a secluded cabin at Six Mile Lake, north of Orillia, and spent the next six years painting, for the most part, alone. Milne was interested in 'pure' painting, in "adventures in shape, colour, texture and space" as he called his watercolours of the 1930s and 1940s. The change from the less vibrant drybrush "adventures" to the fantasy watercolours is often attributed to the birth of his only child, David Jr., born to Milne's second wife when Milne was sixty. His young son encouraged him to adopt a new, vibrant and often whimsical approach to his art. Milne spent the rest of his life in Uxbridge, north of Toronto, exploring the Haliburton and Bancroft areas as well as the city of Toronto.