David Milne exhibition opens at the Vancouver Art Gallery June 16

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Ollie Matson’s House is Just a Square Red Cloud – oil on canvas – National Gallery of Canada – Ottawa – Vincent Massey Bequest, 1968

The Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) is hosting the first exhibition of Canadian artist David Milne shown in the country in 30 years.

David Milne: Modern Painting includes almost 90 works in oil and watercolour plus never-before-exhibited photographs and drawings by the artist.

“Over his half-century career, Milne developed a unique style that earned him fame beyond Canada’s borders,” says VAG director Kathleen S. Bartels.

Waterlilies and the Sunday Paper (Waterlilies Temagami) – 1929 – oil on canvas – gift of the Right Honourable Vincent Massey – 1947 – Hart House Collection HH1947.003 – University of Toronto – Ontario – Canada

Milne was born in 1882 in rural Ontario but moved to New York where he was exposed to the work of Monet, Matisse and others. He was one of the few Canadians that was exhibited in the 1913 Armory Show in New York City, which was the first large exhibition of modern art in North America.

During the First World War, Milne enlisted with the Canadian Army but did not see action. in 1918, he participated in the Canadian War Records program, which commissioned artists to record the war and its aftermath. With limited time to capture his subjects, Milne developed a new approach to watercolour: the drybrush.

Bramshott: Interior of the Wesleyan Hut – watercolour over graphite – National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa – Transfer from the Canadian War Memorials 1921

When he returned to the U.S. he moved from New York to a tiny rural village called Boston Corners in New York State. Later, he built a cabin on Alander Mountain in 1920 and a cottage on Moose Lake in 1924 to focus on his landscape painting.

The exhibition’s co-curator Sarah Milroy says one of the reasons why people deeply revere Milne is because he “was absolutely devoted to fiercely guarding his inner life.”

“For many landscape artists the struggle is to do justice to what’s out there in nature. For Milne, he’s trying to understand his own processes and perceptions,” Milroy says.

Reader with Cat – oil on canvas – 1916 – Private Collection – Ontario

Milne returned to Canada in 1929 painting in rural Ontario locations including Temagami, Palgrave, Weston and Six Mile Lake. He died in 1953 at the age of 71.

David Milne: Modern Painting is presented by the VAG in collaboration with the Dulwich Picture Gallery and the McMichael Canadian Art Collection with support from the National Gallery of Canada.

David Milne: Modern Painting is curated by Sarah Milroy and Ian A. C. Dejardin. The exhibition is on display at the VAG from June 16 to September 9.

Milroy will be delivering the VAG’s annual Heller Lecture on June 16 at UBC Robson Square at 3 p.m. and tickets are available online.

Another exhibit that coincides with the opening of David Milne: Modern Painting is Site Unseen, which considers artists’ use of the landscape through contemporary lens-based practices including photography, film and video.

Mark Lewis – Algonquin Park – September – 2001 – 35mm film transferred to DVD – Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery – Vancouver Art Gallery Acquisition Fund
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Melissa is a reporter at Vancouver Is Awesome and has worked primarily in radio and online media. She grew up in Ontario, went to school in Halifax and worked in Northern B.C. before moving to Vancouver. If you've got a story to share email: melissa@vancouverisawesome.com