The Missing Colourist – John Maclauchlan Milne

Author Maurice Millar looks back at the life of John Maclauchlan Milne, dubbed “The Fifth Scottish Colourist”.

JOHN Maclauchlan Milne (1885-1957) – or “JMM” – was a post-impressionist artist of the jazz age, painting in Paris, the Loire Valley, and then the French Riviera in the 1920s. He painted in the same places – at approximately the same times, in a similar style, and exhibiting with some of the same dealers – as four of his Scottish contemporaries: artists who would later be packaged as “The Scottish Colourists”, namely Samuel Peploe, Francis Cadell, Leslie Hunter, and John Fergusson.

In 1955, Scottish Field published a series of articles about Scottish artists of the day. At that date, JMM had been a professional artist for almost 50 years. He was born into an artistic family in Edinburgh: his father, Joe Milne, and uncle, William Watt Milne, were both landscape artists.

JMM lived and worked in Dundee for more than 30 years from about 1908. In his early career, he painted in the style of his father and uncle, from 1907 until 1920. Demobbed from the Royal Air Force in June 1919, he returned from France and Belgium to Dundee to resume his career as an artist. In 1920, he went to Paris; his painting style changed dramatically. His obituary in 1957 included: “Like Peploe, he saw Cézanne and was immediately conquered”.

JMM was supported by collectors in Dundee. In the 1930s, he painted in the Highlands and islands – specifically the North-West Highlands, Perthshire, and the island of Iona. He left Dundee in 1940 for Arran and lived at High Corrie until near the end of his life in 1957.

His paintings of Iona are in very similar style to those of Cadell and Peploe. Some of his Côte d’Azur pictures resemble those of Cézanne. In a letter from 1924, he referred to his friend Fergusson, and in 1955 he referred to “my good friend Leslie Hunter” and his happy days painting at St Tropez, Vence, and St Paul.

Today, JMM’s paintings are to be found in public collections and in auctions of Scottish art. He has left a light footprint on history, other than his extensive legacy of pictures. His speech impediment may have constrained his professional success, but he is remembered as being word-perfect when singing and reciting poetry.

Dundee claims JMM as “The Dundee Colourist”; others claim him as “The Fifth Scottish Colourist”.

Maurice Millar is the author of The Missing Colourist, the first detailed and illustrated biography of Milne, which is available through his website. Dundee Art Society is holding an exhibition of Milne’s work until 23 July.

'The Missing Colourist' - front cover

Plus, read more stories on Scottish Field’s art pages.