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Allan Milner

Epithet: Artist (1910-1984)

Record type: Biographies

Biography: Allan Milner was an abstract artist, who moved to the Isle of Man in 1950. He was the eldest of three children born in 1910, in the small mining village of Kippax, Yorkshire - but he always referred to being born in Castleford. Milner’s exposure to art began at a young age, whilst attending Castleford Secondary School in the mid-1920s. At the school he developed his interest in art under the charismatic teacher Alice Gostick, who also taught and was a huge influence on the sculptor, Henry Moore.

Milner went on to win scholarships at Leeds Art College and the Royal College of Art in London, where he was able to hone his impressive skills in colour and composition. Before completing his studies he was dismissed from college for living with a female student without a marriage licence. The couple eventually married and Milner began his career as a painter.

He embraced an abstract style, which was cutting edge in the early 1930s. Milner’s work was celebrated across several established galleries in his early career – exhibiting at the Meyer, Redfern, Gimpel Fils and Lefèvre galleries. At intervals, the Tate and the National Gallery accepted samples of his work.

At some period in his early married life, Milner met Mary Fordham, who was separated from her husband and living with her two young children in London. Milner and his wife divorced and he and Mary lived together for the rest of her life, becoming stepfather to her two children.

After serving in the Royal Navy during the Second World War, he was introduced to Belgian art dealer, E.L.T. Mesen, who became his agent. On the strength of the arrangement with Mesen, Milner moved to the Isle of Man in 1950 with Mary and Ann. Milner’s family had come to the Island for a holiday when he was a boy, and he hadn't wanted to go home. This time, he stayed for life.

Milner was a founding member of the Mannin Art Group on the Isle of Man and gave lessons on landscape painting in watercolour. He photographed scenes, then developed and printed them for his pupils to work from. He also gave lectures on abstract art.

Milner’s style of art was considered rather avant-garde on the Isle of Man, which at the time was used to the more traditional works of William Hoggatt and John Hobson Nicholson. Both artists exhibited alongside Milner’s in the Mannin Art Group's annual exhibitions, and the three were firm friends. In 1951 and 1952 he exhibited his work alongside his stepdaughter, Ann Fordham, who had also developed an abstract style. The Ramsey Courier newspaper reflected:

“No doubt there will be much argument about the theories on which Mr Allan Milner’s abstract work is based…the most prejudiced of conservatives must grant him the courage of his convictions and a very high degree of originality and technical attainment. No one can fail to be impressed by his draughtsmanship and the sense of colour, form and composition which all his work displays.”

Milner was made a lifelong honorary member of the Mannin Art Group and was very touched by this action - which was perhaps an acknowledgment of his commitment to the Manx artistic community. He was also Vice President of the group. In later life his stepdaughter reflected that her father’s work had been influenced by Picasso, Klee and Bach. He was described as 'a stout bohemian fellow, competent with brush and corkscrew'. He passed away in 1984 with dementia.

Gender: Male

Date of birth: 1910

Place of birth: Kippax, Yorkshire

Date of death: 1984


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