Milton Avery (1885-1965)
Property of a Private Collector, New York
Milton Avery (1885-1965)

Sitters by the Sea

Milton Avery (1885-1965)
Sitters by the Sea
signed 'Milton Avery' (lower right)
oil on canvas
28 1/8 x 36 1/8 in. (71.4 x 91.8 cm.)
Painted in 1933.
Milton Avery Trust.
Grace Borgenicht Gallery, Inc., New York.
Sanford B. Cohl, New York.
Christie's, New York, 5 May 1982, lot 11, sold by the above.
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
B.L. Grad, Milton Avery, Royal Oak, Michigan, 1981, n.p., no. 1, illustrated.
M. Price, Milton Avery, Early and Late, exhibition catalogue, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, 1981, p.1n11.
M.J. Price, The Paintings of Milton Avery, PhD dissertation, University of Michigan, 1982, pp. 61-62, no. 55, illustrated.
H. Kramer, "Milton Avery," The New York Times Magazine, August 29, 1982, pp. 32, 38, illustrated.
J. Snyder, Against the Stream: Milton Avery, Adolph Gottlieb, and Mark Rothko in the 1930s, Katonah, New York, 1994, p. 25.
J. Baal-Teshuva, N. Levis, Mark Rothko: 1903-1970: Pictures as Drama, New York, 2003, pp. 22, 24, illustrated.
A. Neset, Arcadian Waters and Wanton Seas: The Iconology of Waterscapes in Nineteenth Century Transatlantic Culture, New York, 2009, p. 196.
K.E. Willers, Milton Avery & the End of Modernism, New Paltz, New York, 2011, n.p.
San Francisco, California, Gallery Reese Palley, Milton Avery, September 1968, p. 10.
Louisville, Kentucky, University of Louisville, Allen R. Hite Art Institute, Milton Avery: Paintings and Drawings, 1929-1962, January 9-29, 1965, no. 4.
Lincoln, Nebraska, University of Nebraska, Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery; Little Rock, Arkansas, Arkansas Art Center, Milton Avery, 1893-1965, April 3-June 26, 1966, pp. 17, 35, no. 4, illustrated.
Washington, D.C., National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution; Brooklyn, New York, Brooklyn Museum; Columbus, Ohio, Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, Milton Avery, December 12, 1969-May 31, 1970, no. 7, illustrated.
Austin, Texas, University of Texas Art Museum; Summit, New Jersey, Summit Art Center; Washington, D.C., Phillips Collection, Milton Avery--Drawings and Paintings, December 5, 1976-June 19, 1977.
Sarasota, Florida, John and Marble Ringling Museum of Art, Milton Avery Retrospective Exhibition, September 23-October 31, 1977.
Wichita, Kansas, Wichita State University, Edwin A. Ulrich Museum of Art, Milton Avery: Paintings and Prints, December 7, 1977-January 15, 1978.
Edmonton, Canada, Edmonton Art Gallery; Banff, Canada, Walter Phillips Gallery; Windsor, Canada, Windsor Art Gallery; Saskatoon, Canada, Mendel Art Gallery; Hamilton, Canada, Art Gallery of Hamilton, Milton Avery, September 1978-April 1979.
New York, Grace Borgenicht Gallery, Inc., Milton Avery: Paintings of the Thirties, February 2-28, 1980, no. 12, illustrated.
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Carnegie Institute; Fort Worth, Texas, Fort Worth Art Museum; Buffalo, New York, Albright-Knox Art Gallery; Denver, Colorado, Denver Art Museum; Minneapolis, Minnesota, Walker Art Center, Milton Avery, September 15, 1982-October 30, 1983, pp. 34, 49, 153, no. 18, illustrated.

Lot Essay

Painted in 1933, Sitters by the Sea stands as an important early example of Milton Avery's famed aesthetic of color field-based, abstracted realism, foreshadowing his greatest works of the following decades. As Barbara Haskell writes, "his paintings of the early thirties were clearly the progenitors of his mature style. Sitters by the Sea shares with late paintings a minimization of detail and flattening of form into large fields of uniform color which lock together as abstract arrangements. Even Avery's characteristic three-tiered division of space into sky/sea/land is already evident in the earlier work." (Milton Avery, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1982, p. 49) Marla Price affirms, "As a portent of Avery’s mature style of the forties and fifties, Sitters by the Sea is one of the most important paintings of the thirties." (The Paintings of Milton Avery, PhD dissertation, University of Michigan, 1982, pp. 61-62)

Furthermore, Karl Emil Willers posits that the nascent style and technique of Sitters by the Sea represents a philosophy toward the interaction between people, objects and environments that underlies much of Avery's best work. Sitters by the Sea "clearly embodies all the elements of a style that he would further refine and experiment with, but never really depart from, for the remainder of his career. The painting depicts people sitting, and one child standing, upon a beach contemplatively surveying the broad expanse of sea and sky which extends before them. Illusionistic detail has been removed from the scene...There emerges a direct, almost naïve presentation of the commonplace--and a contemplative stillness-of-moment characteristic of Avery's late works...In Sitters by the Sea there are no hard edges or sharp lines dividing one color area from another. There is instead a scumbling of borders dividing color shapes, causing them to merge and bleed into one another. These muted edges, combined with the studied use of closely valued hues, result in a mingling of objects with the space surrounding them. Thus, Avery's painting comes to express the continuity between material objects and the light and space in which they exist." (Milton Avery & The End of Modernism, New Paltz, New York, 2011, n.p.)

Beyond its influence as one of the earliest examples of Avery's mature approach, Sitters by the Sea also resonates as a key moment in Avery's career due to his rare inclusion of African American figures in the scene. The work was likely inspired by visits to Coney Island, as suggested by the catamaran-type beached boat upon which the figures appear to be resting and which is also seen in some of Avery's other Coney Island paintings. Featuring what appears to be a small white child heading toward the water with African American adults looking on, the painting suggests similar themes as The Nursemaid of 1934 in the collection of The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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