David Milne

Mat Keenahan’s Hilly Farm, 1932

oil on canvas
18.875x21.875 in.
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Palgrave, Ontario, 1932
signed, probably in 1935, lower right: David Milne

Milne Catalogue No. 302.191

Provenance
Vincent Massey, Ontario, 1934;
Michael Wright, London, England, 1937;
By descent to Michael Wright Jr., London, England;
Robertson Galleries, Ottawa, 1958;
Jules Loeb, Toronto;
Masters Gallery Ltd., Calgary;
Private collection, Calgary

Exhibited
National Gallery of Canada, Loeb Collection, 1970, cat. no. 33, travelled to Sir George William University, Montreal; Winnipeg Art Gallery, Winnipeg; University of British Columbia, Vancouver; Mendel Art Gallery of Windsor, Windsor; Université de Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke; Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton

Literature
National Gallery of Canada, The Mr. and Mrs. Jules Loeb Collection, 1970, catalogue no. 33,
reproduced as Untitled;
Susan Chykaliuk, David B. Milne’s Return to Canada: a Study of the Temagami, Weston and Palgrave Years,
1929-1933, published 1986, p. 122 as Bridesmaids Caps

Primary Sources
Milne to James Clarke, Sunday [c. 14], Sunday [c. 21], copied with additions 3 Oct 1932 (quoted below);
Milne 1934 sale list, 32, MFP and UTA;
Massey inventory, as 32A, Mat Kernahan’s Hilly Farm NAC

tter from Milne to Clarke, Sunday [c. 21], August, 1932:
You remember the bride’s maid cap over [Mount] Marcy?

Something like that. Line clouds. I have got more out of line clouds than any other kind this summer.
Very little out of pillow clouds, least of all where the sky is filled with them, too monotonous, too much repetition. Last week (October) I got a sky that reminded me very much of the brides maids cap, a sort of a fog cloud but in line on this principle. Rather unusual, particularly here.

The hat shape – without being conscious of it – repeated slighting in the lower ground counter and in the bases of some of the trees. The upper third of the canvas blank. The cloud shapes here and in several others on the same plan go with the earth shapes. They give variety to the shapes and there is a feeling of surprise, a kick, from the sharp division, not between earth and sky, but between clouds and blank sky.

From Milne 1934 Sale List:
#32 ‘Mat Keenahan’s Hilly Farm’, Palgrave, 1932. The clouds at the horizon motive.

David Milne’s correspondence with his art dealer James Clarke gives us extraordinary insight into the working habits of this painter. Obsessive, particular, and single-minded, Milne’s scrutiny of his own work was intense. He wrote letters to Clarke that reveal this intensity, such as the one quoted above, wherein he explores not just the clouds and their shape, but the space between the clouds and the sky. It was the demarcation of the two that he felt created “a feeling of surprise, a kick… between clouds and blank sky”, wherein lay the interest and his satisfaction with the work.

Milne painted the same subjects repeatedly – if not obsessively – exploring the same view in varying light, with a different palette, with a drier or more heavily wetted brush. He had a habit of sitting on his porch and, while watching the sun go down, blinking repeatedly, focussing on the after-images that would then register in his mind. Like negatives, or x-rays of a scene, this way of looking at things – through the after images – is just one example of Milne’s intensity of commitment to his art practice, and in the paths he took to expand ways of seeing, which for him were the path to painting. When the atmosphere or weather presented him with new conditions, as we see that it has in his description of the unusual fog in the October sky in his letter, he was all the more compelled to try and render what he saw, filtered, shaped, and re-presented to us through his uniquely creative eye.

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