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

Mother and Child

MILTON AVERY (1885-1965)
Mother and Child
signed and dated 'Milton/Avery/1944' (upper right)
oil on canvas
36 x 20 in. (91.4 x 50.8 cm.)
Painted in 1944.
Estate of the artist
Tirca Karlis Gallery, Provincetown, Massachusetts
Andrew Crispo Gallery, New York
Private collection, San Francisco, California, acquired from the above
Christie's, New York, 25 May 1989, lot 379, sold by the above
Private collection, New York
Carol Saper Fine Art, Ltd., New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1999

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Lot Essay

Reflecting on Milton Avery’s place in art history, Mark Rothko declared, “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. This alone took great courage in a generation which felt that it could be heard only through clamor, force and a show of power. But Avery had that inner power in which gentleness and silence proved more audible and poignant.” (quoted in Milton Avery & The End of Modernism, Roslyn Harbor, New York, 2011, p. 34) Indeed, Mother and Child of 1944 embodies this unique balance of expressive representational subject matter with a modern lexicon of form and color, which established Avery as an art icon and influenced artists of following generations.

In Mother and Child, Avery creates fields of planar color in vibrant red and orange, offset by neutral tones of beige and white. The forms of the figures and their expressions are reduced to their most basic elements, as Avery creates a sense of personality and depth solely through shape and color. Such boldly abstracted compositions from the mid-1940s, like Mother and Child, first attracted popular appeal for Avery’s work, and exerted a highly important influence on Post-War American artists, including Rothko as well as Adolph Gottlieb and Barnett Newman. According to Avery’s wife Sally Michel, these three artists often spent summers with the Averys in Massachusetts, and “Rothko and Gottlieb would come around and study his paintings and just absorb them by osmosis.” (quoted in Milton Avery & The End of Modernism, p. 32) Andrew Hudson furthers, “it was from Avery that Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman, two members of the postwar New York School whose large, flat paintings anticipated and were a strong influence behind the emergence of ‘Color [Field] Painting,’ got the idea of muffling, staining and washing thin paint onto the canvas in large areas of a single color. Avery, a representational painter, influenced the future development of abstract art.” (Milton Avery & The End of Modernism, p. 32)

Although Avery’s broad geometric masses of color influentially tended toward abstraction, he importantly never fully abandoned representational painting. Robert Hobbs notes, “Avery recognized that his art could never lose its human quotient if it were to be successful.” (Milton Avery, New York, 1990, p. 166) It is perhaps Avery’s success as a representational artist that has paved the way for many of the great post-War American figure painters, including Alice Neel, Alex Katz, Eric Fischl, John Currin, and George Condo.

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