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Milton Avery (1885-1965)
Dark Inlet
signed and dated 'Milton Avery 1963' (lower left)
oil on canvas
49 ½ x 59 7/8 in. (125.8 x 152 cm.)
Painted in 1963
Milton Avery Estate.
The Waddington Galleries, London (acquired from the above in 1964).
Lord and Lady Alex Bernstein, London (acquired from the above in 1965).
Private Collection, London (acquired from the above in 1972).
The Waddington Galleries, London.
Rutland Gallery, London (acquired from the above in 1977).
The Waddington Galleries, London.
Acquired from the above by Leslie Waddington in 1979.
Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum, Paintings by Milton Avery, 1964.
London, The Waddington Galleries, Milton Avery, 1965, no. 7 (illustrated, unpaged).
London, The Waddington Galleries I, Milton Avery: Paintings, 1973 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
London, Waddington and Tooth Galleries, Groups, 1978 (illustrated, unpaged).
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Milton Avery, 1982-1983, no. 123 (illustrated in colour, p. 151). This exhibition later travelled to Pittsburgh, Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute; Fort Worth, Fort Worth Art Museum; Buffalo, New York, Albright-Knox Art Gallery; Denver, The Denver Art Museum, and Minneapolis, Walker Art Center.
London, Waddington Galleries, Groups VIII, 1985, p. 43, no. 2 (illustrated in colour, p. 3).
London, Waddington Galleries, Milton Avery: Paintings and Watercolours, 1996, p. 33, no. 24 (illustrated in colour, p. 31).
London, Waddington Galleries, Milton Avery Late Work: Landscapes and Seascapes 1951-1963, 2001, p. 44-45, no. 16 (illustrated in colour, p. 29).

Brought to you by

Katharine Arnold
Katharine Arnold

Lot Essay

Avery brought colour to America

Avery is first a great poet. His is the poetry of sheer loveliness, of sheer beauty. Thanks to him this kind of poetry has been able to survive in our time

One feels looking at an Avery landscape or seascape that the highest human experience is being alone and at peace with the land and the sea

One feels looking at an Avery landscape or seascape that the highest human experience is being alone and at peace with the land and the sea

Executed just two years before the artist’s death in 1965, Dark Inlet is a poignant and beautiful swansong. Milton Avery’s masterful poetry of landscape and colour is distilled into a simple, resonant composition. Sky, sea and sand divide the canvas into a harmonious tripartite structure: dunes of palest lilac swoop into petrol-dark water; the foreground’s textural shoreline is fringed with a shimmering border of yellow. The view is of a remembered inlet in Provincetown, Cape Cod, where the artist spent many summers with his wife. Physically ailing and very weak after his second heart attack, he was nonetheless able to create a number of large oils during his later years; his 50 x 60 inch scale took cues from Colour Field artists such as Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko, whom Avery himself had inspired during his time in New York, in order to create an absorbing, all-encompassing pictorial experience. Using matte pigments mixed with turpentine rather than linseed oil, Avery applied his colours in thin layers with a stiff brush, creating chromatic effects of astounding subtlety, delicacy and invention. It is in the flat, interlocking shapes of his landscapes that his preeminent skill as a colourist is brought to the fore, allowing him to occupy a radiant space between realist and abstract art. As Avery himself said, ‘I like to seize the one sharp instant in Nature, to imprison it by means of ordered shapes and space relationships. To this end I eliminate and simplify, leaving apparently nothing but colour and pattern. I am not seeking pure abstraction; rather, the purity and essence of the idea – expressed in its simplest form. I work on two levels. I try to construct a picture in which shapes, spaces, colours form a set of unique relationships, independent of any subject matter. At the same time I try to capture and translate the excitement and emotion aroused in me by the impact with the original idea’ (M. Avery, quoted in Contemporary American Painting, exh. cat. College of Fine and Applies Arts, Illinois, 1951, pp. 158-59).

Having begun his artistic career in the Art Society of Hartford, Connecticut, Avery was initially inspired by famed American landscape artists such as Ernest Lawson and John Henry Twachtman. Later he would start to bring in the colouristic advances of Cézanne, Gauguin and van Gogh, and to translate the later impulses of European modernism to distinctly American scenery. Over the years, gathering focus and intensity, he would develop his own visual language that refined observable nature into simplified forms of unparalleled harmony. Paint was dematerialised into an essence of surface and hue. Indeed, he was among the first painters to treat his medium as a field of pure colour, and was a key influence on the Colour Field artists of New York. Avery, however, followed his own artistic ideals with unwavering commitment throughout his career, never abandoning natural imagery for the abstraction that brought his younger contemporaries to meteoric fame; he had none of the urban sensibilities of Rothko, instead taking quiet, rural beauty as his muse.

Towards the end of his life, Avery moved further from specific scenes to more generalised form, creating quintessential pastorals such as the present work. Vivid and luminous, this is an image of transcendent serenity that belies the fierce work ethic of its creator. Like the intensely emotional colour fields of Newman or Rothko, the canvas is invested with sublime, almost mystic power; as Barbara Haskell has written, ‘One feels looking at an Avery landscape or seascape that the highest human experience is being alone and at peace with the land and the sea’ (B. Haskell, Milton Avery, exh. cat. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1982, p. 15). Beyond its beauty, this scene carries a powerful sense of place. In combining steadfast loyalty to observed reality with deft exploration of fundamental aesthetic concerns, Avery’s was a unique and influential vision in twentieth century art. Tightly structured, nuanced and alive, Dark Inlet represents a gorgeous culmination of his work. ‘I grieve for the loss of this great man,’ Rothko said in 1965; ‘I rejoice for what he has left us’ (M. Rothko, Memorial address delivered at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, 7 January 1965, quoted in Milton Avery, exh. cat. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1982, p. 181).

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