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- © Artists Rights Society (ARS)
- 20th Century American Painting
- The Rehearsal , 1984
- oil on canvas
- 54 1/2 in. x 96 3/8 in. (138.43 cm x 244.79 cm)
- Peter Winslow Milton (Lower Merion Township, Pennsylvania, 1930 - )
- Museum Purchase: Gift of Robert P. Bass, Jr., The John H. Bickford Foundation, Janet Bleicken, Mr. and Mrs. Robert C. Carr, Margaret S. Carter, Richard and Susan Dudley, Joan Farrel, Edward and Hilda Fleisher, Phoebe Flory Watercolor School, Elenore Freedman, Henry M. Fuller, John A. and Ann H. Graf, James and Bonnie Griswold, Burton Hersh, Susanne F. Holcombe, Charles E. Merrill, Anne and Norman Milne, Frances P. Nelson, Putman Foundation, Samuel and Eunice Shaer, Mrs. Lawrence W. Shirley, Dr. and Mrs. David G. Stahl, John F. Swope, Davis P. Thurber, William W. Upton, Sumner and Helen Winebaum, and Kimon S. Zachos, 1990.10
- Not on View
Interpretive text from Exploring American Art: An Online Resource for the American Collections
Peter Milton is best known for his enigmatic and meticulously detailed prints. Born in 1930 in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania, Milton attended the Virginia Military Institute and Yale University, where he earned both his BFA and MFA. While a student at Yale, Milton won a traveling fellowship that enabled him to study in Europe. For some time afterward, the artist pursued painting styles inspired by Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) and Abstract Impressionism, and for a brief interval he tried his hand at sculpture. However, after being diagnosed as partially color blind in 1962, Milton committed himself to black-and-white printmaking.
Milton's course as a printmaker was confirmed in 1964, when the artist won a Louis Comfort Tiffany Grant in Graphics. Over the next several years, he entered numerous printmaking competitions, and in 1966 alone he won sixteen awards. Milton has exhibited both nationally and internationally and is represented in numerous public collections. Since 1969 he has lived and worked in Francestown, New Hampshire, where he maintains a studio in a converted barn.
Completed in 1984, The Rehearsal is one of the major works of Milton's career and the only painting he has made since the early 1960s. Initially, the artist intended the work to be a print, the third in a series entitled Les Belles et la Bête (1977-78). The preparatory drawing for it, however, was too large. Milton decided to make it the subject of a painting to demonstrate to critics that printmakers could successfully make the transition to oil on canvas.
Paralleling the format and mood of his mature graphic work, The Rehearsal depicts the figures of dancers and costumed performers positioned on what appears to be the stage of a large theater. In the background, two rows of raised boxes contain groups of spectators dressed in nineteenth-century clothing. A narrative is implied by the man at center in the wolf costume and the young girl who stands alone behind the column on the right, yet it is unclear just what the story might be. Although the scene appears convincing at first glance, the interior space and the figural groupings do not quite resolve into a logical whole. As with Milton's prints, the spatial and interpersonal relationships portrayed in The Rehearsal are dreamlike, slightly disturbing, and open to interpretation.
Milton has offered some insight into the meaning of The Rehearsal, explaining that the painting revolves around the figure of the girl behind the column. Looking over her shoulder toward the group of young dancers and the wolf-man at the center of the canvas, she longs to "join the fun," but is ambivalent and fearful. For Milton, she represents "the tension of a young person who is about to come into the mature world-into the excitement, the fascination of the adult world." The performers and the elaborate trappings of the theater evoke the artifices of adulthood, while the man in the wolf costume is at once attractive and potentially dangerous. An aura of sexuality reinforces the conflict inherent in the image and is concretely symbolized by the cat masks held by several figures, including the female protagonist. For Milton, who also includes the figure of a live cat in the midst of the central group, such animals "represent the sensuous world."(1)
Milton is quick to assert, however, that his painting is neither allegorical nor a straightforward narrative. He intends his subjects to be evocative of certain feelings and emotions without necessarily adhering to a pictorial or literary formula. The artist often brings together diverse sources to bring about the desired effects, resulting in images that possess a surreal quality that the artist finds appealing. For The Rehearsal, many of the figures were drawn from a book of photographs of the Stuttgart Ballet. The groups in the background derive from paintings by nineteenth-century French painter James Tissot (1836-1902) as well as photographs by his Italian contemporary Count Luigi Primoli. Although friends and family members often appear in Milton's prints, they are not present in his painting.
The Rehearsal was lent to the Currier Museum of Art shortly after it was completed, and in 1990, the Museum purchased the work. The Museum collection also contains five prints by Milton ranging in date from 1967 to 1987.
1. Quotations in this paragraph are taken from typescript notes of a telephone interview with Peter Milton conducted by Marilyn Hoffman in October 1990. Notes contained in object file, Currier Museum of Art.
Robert Flynn Johnson and Peter Milton. Peter Milton: Complete Prints 1960-1996. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1996.
Prints by Peter Milton: An Exhibition of Prints from the Collection of the Artist. Ex. cat. International Exhibitions Foundation, 1977.
The information presented here is reviewed regularly and may change as result of ongoing research.