David Milne

Wild Flowers on the Window Ledge I

watercolour on paper
14.5x22 in.
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Uxbridge, Ontario, 2 May 1942
inscribed: Wild Flowers on the Window Ledge; by Duncan: W-306

Milne Catalogue No. 403.111

Provenance
Duncan / Picture Loan;
Mrs. Ralph Norton, West Palm Beach, Florida, 1949;
E.R. Hunter, West Palm Beach, Florida, 1970;
David Silcox, Toronto;
Private collection, Toronto

Exhibited
Hart House, Ajax, University of Toronto, 1947;
Norton Gallery and School of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida, 1984

Literature
David Silcox, David Milne: Life and Work, p. 330

References
Duncan Catalogue W-355 as Wild Flowers on a Window Ledge, National Gallery of Canada;
Kathleen Milne, Notes on Paintings, 2, 3 May 1942, outlined below:

From Kathleen Milne’s Notes on Paintings:

May 2 [1942]
Watercolour, Still life & Street scene [Wild Flowers on the Window Ledge I, 403.111].
May 3rd.
Above, 2nd vers[ion]

Comp[osition]. Foreground large brick, glass of flowers & glass dish.
These hold attention either thro[ugh] colour or detail & movement goes across, str[eet] scene in background incidental. Background street scene simple & varied. People, cars, b[ui]ld[in]gs, trees (very reduced). Colour.
Foreground commences at left with large brick, yellow, green, black, red.
Distinctive but too simple to hold attention long. Then a glass of flowers – adders’ tongue, trillium, dutchmen’s britches. Much varied in shape & colour, yellow, mauve, red, outlined in black, delicate, in strong contrast to brickwhich uses much the same colours massively, The glass dish simpler but don in detail & with delicacy. All on black ground (window sill) Background – uses same colours with reduced emphasis. All detail simplified. Considerable variety in shapes. On white ground. While the foreground is of greatest interest the background is not sufficiently reduced & picture tends to divide into two parts.
Contrast of textures used i.e. sparkle of glass dish & solidity of brick. Outlines for the most part clean cut, blurred foggy

Upon viewing the work of Canadian master David Milne, we often find ourselves first asking the question, “what am I looking at?” His prints look like paintings, and his paintings look like prints. Milne was obsessed with the way paint could be manipulated on a surface. In his oil paintings, we often have a very watercolour-esque treatment, one that seems unnecessary. Why create such fine washes and blends in oil, when watercolour can easily make those kind of marks? And conversely, why, in watercolour, lay down such undefined, burred lines, when Milne’s excellent dry point prints could result in a similar effect? But that was Milne. He was constantly pushing the boundaries of possibility with his art media, and would then analyze the results in depth. We see from the detailed notes he has made on this work, his scrutiny of his accomplishment, what is successful about it, and why. He would then take this learning in to the next work, exploring one aspect such as colour, or the translucent effect of water in a glass container. Of this work he tells us that the windowsill is brick, painted using the same colours he has used to render the flowers, a delicate bouquet of trilliums, adder’s tongue, and dutchmen’s britches. These sit, dangling into a delicate bowl, which in detail contrasts to the sparkle of the water in the glass vase. He analyzes every aspect of the work, noting in the end that it is the movement of the work over the line and detail that succeeds as an “important factor” in the picture. David Milne is unquestionably of the finest creative minds in the Canadian art historical record. Obsessive, self-scrutinizing, and incredibly demanding of his own capabilities, his vast body of work is testament to the act of creativity.

 

 

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