A richly illustrated biography of a fascinating artist.
David Milne (1882-1953) experienced life as an artist in turn-of-the-century New York, as a soldier in World War I, and as a contemporary of the Group of Seven in Canada. This book traces the gifted painter's development over the course of tumultuous personal and historical events.
Milne enjoyed early success, and five of his works were exhibited at the landmark Armory Show of 1913 in New York, alongside paintings by Monet, Duchamp, Matisse and Van Gogh. He was, according to America's foremost art critic, Clement Greenberg, among the three greatest artists of their generation in North America. His highly original paintings from his early career earned him critical acclaim, and at age 65 he was still considered, by curators and other artists, as Canada's most innovative artist.
David Milne: An Introduction to His Life and Art is a richly illustrated book that elegantly captures the development of an artist who saw magic in everyday life and painted with verve and passion.
David Silcox is an art historian and cultural administrator who has held cultural portfolios at all levels of government. Silcox wrote the definitive biography, Painting Place: The Life and Work of David B. Milne, as well as other noteworthy books on art, including The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson.
David Brown Milne (1882-1953) was of the same generation as the Group of Seven, but he chose a different path as an artist. Instead of studying in Europe, he headed to New York. Instead of adopting aspects of impressionism and art nouveau, he chose to be a modernist. For him art was a purely aesthetic matter, not a form of nationalistic symbolism; art was the result of the intellect and the emotions, not a spiritual construct; art was a private enjoyment, not a public celebration; and the making of art meant following a solitary track, not joining art movements or societies, even if it meant living for many years in relative obscurity. When someone asked Milne if he was a member of the Group of Seven, he replied that he was a member of the Group of One. His tenacity in the face of indifference and poverty was courageous. He thought that true courage was needed to create new conventions in art.
For the first twenty-six years of his adult life, Milne lived, worked and exhibited in the United States. He quickly became known as one of the brash young iconoclasts, and he had five works shown in the controversial Armory Show of 1913.
When he returned to Canada at last in 1929, he was unknown except for his work for the Canadian War Memorials Program in 1918-19. Through the staff of the National Gallery, he became known to Vincent and Alice Massey, who purchased about three hundred of his paintings in 1934 and then arranged exhibitions of his work. From that point on he became, and remained, a fixture on the national art scene, if not a well-understood one.
Milne was exceptionally intelligent and inventive. At the age of sixty he was still considered by critics and curators as the most innovative artist in the country. His knowledge of art history was both deep and wide. He measured himself and other artists against the great masters: European (chiefly CĂ©zanne and Constable, but the Italians and Dutch too), Asian, Egyptian and American. He was alive to the excitement of children's art because of its freshness and spontaneity, its innocence and verity.
Milne's essays on art, and his letters, diaries and journals, mark him as a great writer too, for all are models of clarity, insight and style. His letters to James Clarke, his friend and patron, are among the significant documents of art in the twentieth century.
Today's painters respect Milne because he had an astonishing technical agility in both oil and watercolor. His color drypoints, an art form that he invented, are magical. The artist Harold Town referred to him as "the master of absence" for his uncanny ability to leave out everything but the most essential elements in a painting. Milne himself attributed this trait, somewhat slyly, to his Scottish miserliness. Milne's sense of "perfect pitch" in color, his dazzling but understated virtuosity, and his immense variety are some of the reasons why he is the Canadian painter's painter, and why he is so highly respected by foreign curators and critics.