Signed JEM, dated 1974 and numbered 2/3 (on the underside of the base)
polished bronze on slate base
height (including base): 20.5c
Conceived in 1971, the present work is number 2 from the edition of 3 cast in polished bronze in 1974.
Purchased directly from the artist in March 1975 (original receipt);
E. Palmer, Middlesex until 2021
Accompanied by the original receipt from the artist, dated 27 March 1975
£6,500 + ARR
In 1971 Milne travelled to Persia in the company of David Field, a designer, and described this brief but unforgettable journey in his diary:
" One night I sat for hours beneath the arches of the oldest bridge in Isfahan; something which I had felt upon seeing it the previous day compelled me to return. It was a feeling obsessive and hypnotic, about the interlocking structure of the arches and the tunnel forms through which the waters of the river pounded." Back in England I showed photographs of this place to various friends. They said: 'Ah, that is where so many of your ideas stem from; it is almost a prototype of some of your drawings." But the drawings referred to were executed fifteen to twenty years before. It was like a breaking dream.
Persepolis was built between 560-410 by Darius the Great and Xerxes, and destroyed soon afterwards by the armies of Alexander, Milne writes:
"Looking upwards at those seemingly endless, towering columns and surveying the splendid acres of the palace, the great walls of which had once housed the heads of state of one of the earliest empires in the world, there came again this emotion. I looked up at the vast staircases hewn out of the mountainside which led to the tombs of the Kings and saw finally, with reverence, in situ the exquisitely carved bas reliefs which I had know as a student only from photographs and visits to the British Museum, but which had such a profound impression on me as I embarked in my career as a sculptor. I was overwhelmed with a feeling which connected all those past years, a feeling, immensely powerful and stimulating."
The journey to Persia was to have as great an impact upon Milne's work as those early visits to Greece and later to Morocco. Persepolis was first cast in an edition of 9 in a patinated bronze in 1971, then imagined on a much larger scale in 1973 through Persepolis II and then again in an edition of 3 in 1974 ( as stated in the original invoice supplied with this work) in a polished bronze. Milne would often return to his most successful sculptures and edition them in a different size or finish. Being a perfectionist he wanted to try out different castings, which would sometimes be done over many years. Gnathos was originally carved in Nigerian Guarea in 1955 before being later imagined in polished bronze and also patinated bronze in 1967. Milne wrote: “I often cast works with more than one type of finish in order to be absolutely sure that the final result is the most perfect that I can obtain.”
J.P. Hodin, John Milne, exh. cat. Marjorie Parr Gallery 1974
J.P. Hodin, John Milne: Sculptor, London 1977
Lynette Fosdyke-Crofts, Reflections of a Sculptor, The Art and Life of John Milne, St Ives 1998
Peter Davies, The Sculpture of John Milne, London 2000 ISBN: 0906647045
Born in Eccles, Lancashire, in 1931 Milne studied electrical engineering at Salford Royal Technical College in 1945, then transferred to the art school at the College, specialising in sculpture, until 1951. In the following year he attended the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, in Paris. For two years he was then a pupil of the sculptor Barbara Hepworth and her assistant, along with amongst others, the sculptor Denis Mitchell. Although some of Hepworth’s assistants later moved away from her style, Milne’s work continued to bear some relation to it. In 1956, he purchased Trewyn House, a large property in St Ives, next to Barbara Hepworth's studio (her studio had once been an outbuilding of his house), which provided him with studio space and a view to the sea below.
Milne from the early 1960s visited Greece regularly, an influence which showed itself in works such as Gnathos, owned by the Tate Gallery. The artist wrote: ‘I often cast works with more than one type of finish in order to be absolutely sure that the final result is the most perfect that I can obtain. I consider the polished bronze of Gnathos as the ultimate fulfilment of my original idea. The Greek word “Gnathos” means “jaw” or “jawbone” which describes my feeling of “biting” or “getting ones teeth into” something, be that something my life or my work—this was the emotion of the sculpture. Gnathos was a complete change of direction in my work at that point (1960). I have since carried out many other sculptures and reliefs which continue this pincer-like feeling amongst which are Totemic II and the relief Icarus.’
One-man exhibitions included several at Marjorie Parr Gallery (1969 & 1974), Lad Lane Gallery, Dublin, and a retrospective at the Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery, in 1971. His reputation grew and his work was collected and exhibited extensively in the UK and abroad; exhibitions were held in Vancouver in 1974 and, jointly with Denis Mitchell and Enzo Plazzotta, in Saudi Arabia in 1976; several Milne exhibitions were also mounted in the USA.
He continued to live and work in St Ives until his untimely death in 1978 at the age of 47 when he was preparing for a major US exhibition. The Belgrave Gallery exhibition in 2000 marked the publication of Peter Davies’s 'The Sculpture of John Milne'.
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John Milne photographed by Ida Kar in 1961