Sunday, 10 June 2012

James Hiley Milner

If I had been paying more attention, I would have had the second print of blue tits to hand for the earliest readers of this post. But Gerrie Caspers, my assiduous friend in Holland, sent it on as soon as he could and this means we can get a much better idea of what James Hiley Milner (1869 - 1954) could do. He not only made colour woodcuts but was also apparently one of those rare individuals who made intalgio prints as well - in his case etchings. (Although I haven't been able to trace any so far, I would advise you to stand by, because I am sure that Gerrie will turn some up sooner rather than later because he is a man for a challenge.) Milner also went on painting in oils and watercolour untill almost the end of his life. The small flower study I've added come some way short of Manet but has a freshness and lack of sophistication about them - just like the prints. The bridge is so well done, it made me wonder why the willow tree is so stiff. But even there I think we might be glancing back at wonderful late C18th watercolourists like Francis Towne.


First and foremost, he handles colour with considerable subtlety. He may not have the ballet russes feel of, say, Mable Royds. He is quietly conservative. But in both prints here, especially the first, you can see how much he achieves with a limited range of colour. So many colour woodcut artists distract us either with their panache or virtuosity but Milner lets the image speak. More than that, he can do landscape in the British manner but also bird studies much more in the style of the Japanese.

And from our own perspective of course, these two prints now have a strong period atmosphere and appeal. It is almost impossible for anyone looking at British colour woodcuts today not to be aware of this. On the first version of this post, I suggested that Milner may have been a student of Frank Morley Fletcher. The craftsmanship is there and certainly the printing skills that became a matter of course with any of Fletcher's students. If he wasn't an actual student, he would be a follower. Fletcher's reticence is present, and also his subtle shadings of colour. In addition, Milner has a draughtsman's eye for structure. Look at the bridge and the bird's open wings. So, the other printmaker than comes to mind is John Platt less the obvious dynamics. First and foremost, Milner is observant.

I should add that the first print has come up for sale on British ebay. It's certainly interesting that one print should have followed on quite so soon after the other. But then one good sale deserves another. Not that I am here to flog a print; the aim is only to bring Milner's charm and skill to the attention of readers. I neglected him. I had actually seen 'Winter guests' but had somehow pased it over. Now I hope he's part of the canon.


  1. But how can the calmly lovely woodcut be by the same artist as those garishly awful flower studies?

  2. Possibly because artists are rarely consistent, especially when they have had as long a time at it as Milner appeared to do. But they also go some way towards proving that the old adage about fine art is correct: many are called, but few are chosen.

  3. I agree with Neil. That subtle moment of the summer idyll is captured so perfectly, it almost seems ahead of it's time..but perfectly evocative of the time. The other works are not to my taste, although I think at some point in my life they may well have been. I think the fishing scene is almost as perfect as a Kenneth Broad, without his joy of life. As I recall, it didn't sell...more's the pity. Clive

  4. But the real subject of 'Fishing' (I discovered the right title only on Saturday) is not the boy but the bridge. What interests Milner is skill, that of the bird or the men who made the bridge. Milner's great strengths are technical. Both cutting and printing look pretty good from here. But it's all a bit bloke-ish.

    It didn't sell because it was too much, Clive!