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Milton Avery (1885-1965)
Property from a Distinguished Private Collection
Milton Avery (1885-1965)

Early Spring

Details
Milton Avery (1885-1965)
Early Spring
signed and dated 'Milton Avery/1944' (lower left)
oil on canvas
28 x 36 in. (71.1 x 91.4 cm.)
Painted in 1944.
Provenance
Grace Borgenicht Gallery, Inc., New York.
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1983.

Lot Essay

Early Spring is a dramatic example of Milton Avery's ability to compose powerful landscapes that reduce the natural environment into an arrangement of color-field shapes. "I like to seize the one sharp instant in Nature," writes Avery, "to imprison it by means of ordered shapes and space relationships. To this end I eliminate and simplify, leaving apparently nothing but color and pattern." (as quoted in R. Hobbs, Milton Avery: The Late Paintings, New York, 2001, p. 53) In Early Spring, the scene is at once recognizable as a landscape, with identifiable elements such as the trees, and yet abstract, as these shapes have not been so much transcribed but rather interpreted from nature. Consequently, the forms represent not only familiar landscape elements but also planes of pure color, which come together to create a synthetic harmony that characterizes the work as uniquely Avery. Fundamental to his style, the pictorial space has been condensed into a flattened two-dimensional plane. His wife Sally explains, “Well, Milton's idea of painting was really quite different…He was interested in a flat surface and he used color as a means of expression. He was completely disinterested in photographic depth or mushy painting.” (as quoted in T. Wolf, Interview with Sally Avery, New York, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, February 19 and March 19, 1982)

Avery’s bold use of color in Early Spring is perhaps the most characteristic and striking feature of the work. Executed in 1944, the painting draws in part from his admiration of the work of Henri Matisse and the Fauvists’ range of color. He employs simplified shapes of color and pattern to construct the scene. This conscientious approach to his work was recognized during Avery’s day, when a critic noted in 1944, “Milton Avery…is a man almost anyone nowadays would recognize instantly as a sophisticate. But he too bothers little about perspective and at times makes use of naïve detail, two facts which may conceivably make it difficult for the historian of five hundred years hence to clarify him exactly…It seems clear to the contemporary eye that what primitivism he displays is of the conscious variety.” (R. Coates as quoted in R. Hobbs, Milton Avery, New York, 1990, p. 68) Here, Avery omits extraneous details and replaces them with suggestive sgraffito and dry, coarse brushwork. Avery’s distinguished and unique style of a highly saturated palette arranged in a subtle puzzle of abstract forms is clearly exhibited in Early Spring.

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