Lot #114

David Milne
Young Cedars (1919)

oil on canvas
signed and dated “Dec. 25, ‘19” lower right; titled and inscribed “Loaned by Mrs I.H. Weldon” on the stretcher (by Douglas Duncan); Milne catalogue raisonné no. 201.10
18 x 22.25 ins ( 45.7 x 56.5 cms )

Auction Estimate: $350,000.00$250,000.00 - $350,000.00

Price Realized $792,000.00
Sale date: December 1st 2022

Provenance:
Douglas Duncan Picture Loan Society
Mrs I.H. Weldon, Toronto, 1955
Roberts Gallery, Toronto, 1969
Acquired by the present Private Collection, October 1969
Exhibited:
“David Milne, 1955‒6”, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; travelling to the Art Gallery of Toronto; Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 16 September 1955‒11 June 1956, no. 9
Hart House, University of Toronto, 1955 as “Young Cedars, Boston Corners”
“Collector’s Canada: Selections from a Toronto Private Collection”, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; travelling to Musée du Québec, Quebec City; Vancouver Art Gallery; Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon, 14 May 1988‒7 May 1989, no. 90
“David Milne Retrospective Exhibition”, Galerie Walter Klinkhoff, Montreal, September 2001, no. 17
“Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven”, Vancouver Art Gallery; travelling to Glenbow Museum, Calgary; Art Gallery of Hamilton, 30 October 2015‒25 September 2016
“Collectors’ Treasures/Trésors des collectionneurs”, Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Montreal, 19 October‒2 November 2019, no. 34
Literature:
David Milne Jr. and David P. Silcox, “David B. Milne: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume 1: 1882 ‒ 1928”, Toronto, 1998, listed and reproduced page 254, no. 201.10 as “Young Cedars I”
Dennis Reid, “Collector’s Canada: Selections from a Toronto Private Collection”, Toronto, 1988, no. 90, reproduced page 81
Ian Thom, et al., “Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven”, Vancouver/London, 2015, reproduced page 181
David Milne was a painter’s painter. He was always setting himself formal challenges, working closely and repeatedly with motifs that tested his ability and developed his aesthetic. To think with Milne, initially one needs to look intensely at a landscape such as Young Cedars – rather than through it to what it depicts – and appreciate it as a carefully constructed representation. Biographical and topographic context can extend our understanding of the work. For example, beside Milne’s signature is the date (December 25th), suggesting his commitment to art. We also know that he painted the canvas in the vicinity of Boston Corners in upper New York State.

Milne hailed from Bruce County in rural southwestern Ontario and was, in essence, a landscape artist. His painting in the years spent in Boston Corners – before he enlisted in the army during World War I – is some of the most esteemed in his highly productive career. But what were David and Patsy Milne doing in this small town in the Berkshires, hills that we see in the upper band of this canvas? His predilection for painting a domesticated countryside is perhaps surprising for an artist who had recently and adroitly captured urban scenes in New York City. Milne left Canada at age 21 to study at the Arts Students’ League there (1903‒05). He came to know both American and European Impressionism, Post‒Impressionism, and Fauvism, quintessentially modern approaches that would shape his own unique style. A significant measure of this early success was his participation in two of North America’s most important exhibitions of avant‒garde art in the early 20th century: the famous Armory Show in 1913 (seen in New York, Boston, and Chicago) and the Panama‒ Pacific International Exposition held in San Francisco in 1915. Boston Corners, by contrast, had fewer than 100 inhabitants when the Milnes moved there in 1916. This site was a dramatic change from his previous years in crowded New York City, but it was the metropolis that proved to be the exception in his career.

“Young Cedars” is a complex painting. A light snowfall covers the foreground and the middle distance under the line of trees. It patterns the rounded hills we see in the distance. The contrasts between white areas, dark open ground, and strong shadows animate the surface. Colour is usually muted in Milne’s landscapes, making the highlights that do appear all the more visually interesting. The shadows cast by the trees are bright blue, for example, which makes their constant interplay with brown tones across the entire canvas more vivid. The trees dominate and give title to the painting; they were a motif that Milne came back to persistently at this time. Honest and keenly self‒critical, he recorded his labours in a journal. The painting is “successful,” he writes, “except where line of trees meets ground at left; lacks decision there. Evergreens might be simplified ...”.

The screen of fan‒shaped conifers across the middle of the painting embodies Milne’s solution, achieved by repainting most of these forms a few weeks later. Remarkably, he adapted an ancient Egyptian manner of outlining and thus lightening and simplifying the mass of these shapes, one he had seen in the plaster cast of “The Expedition to the Land of Punt from the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut” at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. In “Young Cedars”, Milne constructed a strongly patterned surface that is also readable as a spacious landscape full of observation and formal linkages across space.

Milne painted constantly during his years at Boston Corners. Some works bring us up close to natural forms. “Young Cedars” displays his other preference, which was to build a sweeping scene, a panorama of landscape and town. Milne conveyed intimacy in both modes of seeing. We sense that he walked these hills. His quick, definitive touch conveys a vitality that stems from his knowledge of his motifs.

Born in rural Ontario and a master of pastoral landscape in the USA, through expert paintings such as “Young Cedars”, David Milne’s reputation has again garnered the international profile of his early years in New York City. The exhibition “David Milne: Modern Painting” showed at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London, England, in 2018. “David Milne Watercolors: Painting Toward the Light” appeared at the Metropolitan Museum in NYC in 2005‒06.

We extend our thanks to Mark A. Cheetham for contributing the preceding essay. Mark has written extensively on Canadian arts and artists – including Jack Chambers, Alex Colville, Robert Houle, and Camille Turner – most recently in the collection “Unsettling Canadian Art History” (2022). He is a professor of Art History at the University of Toronto.

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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.