Exhibition dates: November 8, 2005 – January 29, 2006
Exhibition location: The Charles Z. Offin Gallery and Karen B. Cohen Gallery, Second Floor
David Milne Watercolors: "Painting Toward the Light," on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art from November 8, 2005 to January 29, 2006, will reintroduce the work of one of Canada's finest painters to American audiences. Milne (1882-1953), whose career spanned the first half of the 20th century, lived and worked in the United States (1903-29) during the heyday of American modernism before returning to Ontario (1929-53), where he had a quiet career out of the spotlight. This exhibition of 45 works from Canadian and American collections follows Milne's experimentation with modernism in New York City, his years as a Canadian War Memorials artist in Europe after World War I, his subsequent retreat into the landscape of upstate New York, and his final years in Canada, which inspired a dramatic departure from his depictions of the natural world to the realm of the spiritual.
The exhibition is made possible by Rosamond Ivey.
The exhibition is organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto.
Although Milne worked prolifically in several media – he produced some 6,000 paintings and prints over 50 years – the retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum focuses exclusively on his watercolors, which were central to his artistic process. It will be the first time that an exhibition will study in-depth this facet of his oeuvre. Milne's watercolors are arguably his best and most important creations and were conceived as independent works of art. Often, the ideas and techniques developed first in his watercolors found application in his oil paintings and drypoints. He was technically innovative with wet-on-wet and drybrush painting, and he used unpainted white paper to infuse his images with a blinding light. Throughout his career, Milne's work balanced representation and abstraction. While his subjects were derived, for the most part, from the visible world – streets, people, landscapes – his artistic concerns always remained focused on the modernist precepts he had learned in New York at the beginning of the twentieth century. In his art and his writings, Milne reinforced his belief that the formal elements of line, color, shape, and composition were paramount in the creation of a work of art.
Milne spent nearly 25 years working in the United States during the early part of his career (1903-18, 1920-21, 1924-29). Much of that time was spent in New York City, where he studied at the Art Students League of New York, and began to gain some acclaim in gallery shows and group exhibitions. Of particular importance was his inclusion in two of the era's most prestigious international exhibitions, the 1913 Armory Show in New York and the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco – both times represented by his watercolors. Among the many works in the exhibition from this period is Dreamland Tower, Coney Island (1912), a night view of one of the four amusement parks in Brooklyn's famed Coney Island, brightly illuminated by thousands of light bulbs and stars – a subject that symbolized and celebrated the technological advancements of the modern world. Also included is a lively street scene, Three Hansoms (1912), quite possibly a view from Milne's studio near the New York Public Library at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue that captures the city's congested pedestrian and vehicular traffic. The confluence of "old" and "new" New York is represented by old-fashioned horse-drawn carriages and ladies with parasols, as well as modern cars and buses, all vying for street space.
Milne's New York experience was interrupted by World War I. During the years 1918-19, just after the Armistice, he worked for the Canadian War Memorials program recording the battlefields in Europe where Canadian soldiers had fought and died. Upon his return to the United States he became increasingly more reclusive, retreating from the art world into the natural beauty and solitude of the Berkshire, Catskill and Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York.
Several works in the exhibition record Milne's impressions of this pristine landscape, which also reflected his interest in the transcendentalism of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Among them is Reflections, Bishop's Pond (1920), which the artist said was painted at "the mirror time of day," when a subject and its reflection merge into a unified image, distinguished only by their differing textures. In Reflections, Glenmore Hotel (1923), painted at Big Moose Lake in the Adirondacks, image and reflection are subsumed into an overall pattern of short dabs of paint that describe the outlines of the mountain and building, rather than their volume.
After a brief stay in Canada in 1923-24, Milne returned to Canada permanently in 1929, living in Ontario for the next 24 years, until his death in 1953. He had stopped painting watercolors in 1925, devoting his attention to oil painting and printmaking instead, but in 1937 took them up again as his principal means of expression. However, the artist's style and technique changed considerably after his 12-year break. He no longer painted closely from observation, but rather created what he called "memory pictures," which opened up previously unexplored themes, including fantasy and religious subjects. A late work from this period in the exhibition is Storm Over the Islands III (1951), one of a series of
diaphanous visions he created using the wet-on-wet technique where watercolor was quickly brushed onto wet paper in a matter of minutes.
David Milne Watercolors: "Painting Toward the Light"has been organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario, in consultation with The Metropolitan Museum of Art The exhibition opened its international tour at The British Museum in London (July 7 – September 25, 2005) and, following its presentation at the Metropolitan in New York, will travel to the Art Gallery of Ontario in February 2006. A different selection of works will be seen at each venue.
At the Metropolitan Museum, Lisa M. Messinger, Associate Curator in the Department of Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary Art, has organized the exhibition. Exhibition design is by Michael Langley; graphics are by Sue Koch; and lighting is by Clint Ross Coller and Rich Lichte, Lighting Designers, all of the Metropolitan Museum's Design Department.
Exhibition Catalogue and Related Programs
David Milne Watercolors: "Painting Toward the Light" will be accompanied by the publication David Milne: Watercolours, a richly illustrated catalogue published by the Art Gallery of Ontario. The book, edited by Katharine Lochnan, The R. Fraser Elliot Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Art Gallery of Ontario, which features essays by six Milne experts and an annotated chronology, considers the artist from international and Canadian perspectives ($39.95 paperback/ $55.00 hardcover).
A variety of education programs will be presented in conjunction with the exhibition, including gallery talks, family, and children's programs. In addition offsite programs will be offered to adult community groups and after school and in school classes. The exhibition will also be featured on the Museum's website (www.metmuseum.org).