John Maclauchlan Milne was born in Buckhaven, the son and nephew of the artists Joseph Milne and William Watt Milne respectively. In 1938 he declared ‘I cannot look back on a time when I was not familiar with the smell of oil paint and the paraphernalia of a studio.’ (Artist’s Statement, Contemporary Scottish Painting, The Gallery, St Andrews, August 1938, cited in The Life and Works of John Maclauchlan Milne, Portland Gallery, London, 2010, exh. cat., p. 92). It is thought that Milne received his training from his father, before a period spent in Canada. Whilst there he described himself as an artist, but spent time working as a cowboy in order to earn a living.
On his return to the UK, Milne married and settled in Dundee. In 1912 he exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy and the Royal Glasgow Institute for the first time; he was to do so regularly for the rest of his career, leading to his election as a full member of the former in 1937 and the mounting of Memorial Displays by both institutions in 1958, following his death the previous year.
During World War One, Maclauchlan Milne served with the Royal Flying Corps, including in France and Belgium. Following de-mobilisation in 1919, he served as President of Dundee Art Society before a spell living in Paris. Indeed, from this point on until 1932 he spent significant amounts of time in France, in the capital as well as the Midi, with St Tropez finding particular favour as a place to work. Other leading Scottish artists of the inter-war period were also drawn to the French Mediterranean, including Charles Rennie Mackintosh, James McIntosh Patrick, Anne Redpath and all four artists known as ‘the Scottish Colourists’, F. C. B. Cadell, J. D. Fergusson, G. L. Hunter and S. J. Peploe.
As Alice Strang has explained: ‘Like his friend Samuel John Peploe, Maclauchlan Milne was greatly inspired by the French Post-Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne and this, combined with his experience of France, brought about a dramatic change in his work after the war…[which]…gave way to brightly coloured, boldly painted French landscape scenes. These earn him the right to be called a ‘Scottish Colourist’ and indeed he painted alongside Peploe and F. C. B. Cadell in France and described George Leslie Hunter as a good friend.’ (Alice Strang, Consider the Lilies: Scottish Painting 1910-1980, Dundee, 2007, exh. cat., p. 88).
The importance of Maclauchlan Milne’s work was recognised during his lifetime and was included in many solo and group exhibitions including in Glasgow, London, America and Canada. Acquisitions were made for public collections including The McManus, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and by the French state for the Musée du Luxembourg. In addition, his work was sought after by Scotland’s leading collectors, including William Boyd, Matthew Justice, Alexander Keiller and John Tattersall.
During the 1930s, Maclauchlan Milne focused on the Scottish landscape, especially that of the west Highlands. During World War Two he moved to Arran, married for the second time and was provided with bountiful subject matter by the island. A solo exhibition of Maclauchlan Milne’s work was mounted at The McManus in 1985 and the first monograph about him was published by M. N. Millar in 2022.
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