MILTON AVERY (1885-1965)
MILTON AVERY (1885-1965)
MILTON AVERY (1885-1965)
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MILTON AVERY (1885-1965)
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MILTON AVERY (1885-1965)

Reclining Nude

MILTON AVERY (1885-1965)
Reclining Nude
signed and dated 'Milton Avery/1945' (lower left)
oil on canvas
18 x 30 in. (45.7 x 76.2 cm.)
Painted in 1945.
Private collection, New York.
Christie's, New York, 4 December 1997, lot 100, sold by the above.
Acquired by the late owner from the above.

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Tylee Abbott
Tylee Abbott Vice President, Head of American Art

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Lot Essay

A signature image from the artist’s best decade of production, Reclining Nude features Milton Avery’s distinctive simplified approach to figuration. Setting the classic subject of a reclining female nude against bright colors and decorative patterning, the painting is a fresh and modern interpretation of the traditional odalisque subject that adds vibrancy and vitality to the restful pose. As Hilton Kramer writes, “His wit preserves their freshness, while his elegance confers on them a kind of lyric beauty one normally expects to find in a subject encountered for the first time.” (Milton Avery: Paintings, 1930-1960, New York, 1962, p. 13)

Painted in 1945, Reclining Nude captures the lyrical essence evident in Avery’s best works. The figure is minimized to the basic curves of her form, with Avery characteristically leaving her face blank and employing just one darker tone of pink to suggest three-dimensional shading. The interior around her is rendered with vivid blues of the bed below, and rich black above—both emphasizing the beautiful outline of her pale form and enlivening the scene with pattern and texture. "As the forties advanced," writes Barbara Haskell, "Avery's concentration on color and the simplification of shapes became increasingly intense. As before, color created the dominant impression and set the emotional tone, but now Avery's choices of colors and their combination became more striking and daring…Within these barely modulated color planes Avery created textures by scratching into the painting with a fork or razor, a process which reduced illusionistic recession by calling attention to the two-dimensional surface of the canvas." (Milton Avery, New York, 1982, p. 108) Indeed, Avery uses the scraffito technique in the present work to create a wallpaper of diamonds and flowers, which adds not only visual interest but a sense of spontaneity and fun to the dramatic arrangement of forms.

With this floral pattern detail and bold use of color, Reclining Nude demonstrates why Avery has oft been referred to as the American Matisse. Though Avery himself discounted the influence of Henri Matisse on his work, comparing the present work with Matisse’s Lying nude on a violet background (1936, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts) shows a clear relation to the French artist’s use of flat color and patterns. In 1935, Avery began to work with Matisse’s American dealer, the Valentine Gallery, and the Fauve emphasis on color became more and more important in Avery’s own explorations. Haskell explains, “Essentially, Matisse's example gave Avery license to extend the concerns he was already pursuing. His color after 1940 became much bolder as he created the mood of a situation by discarding the constraints of naturalistic hues and favoring a saturated, non-naturalistic palette." (Milton Avery, p. 72)

Adapting this European Modernist influence with his own American sense of personality to interpret a traditional art historical subject, Reclining Nude captures the unique essence which established Avery among the most important figural painters of the twentieth century.

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