Throughout his career, Milton Avery repeatedly returned to depictions of the American landscape, exploring its hills and fields in a progressively abstract manner. Painted in 1955, Yellow Meadow is an important work in the artist's oeuvre that embodies the transition from his earlier, more figurative, style to the reductive abstraction of his mature career. This poetic composition manifests Avery's talent as a colorist and his ability to capture the essence of his subject.
In Yellow Meadow, Avery reduces the natural environment to simple, almost primitive, elements composed of largely monochromatic forms. The lower half, comprising the titular meadow, is a large color field of brilliant yellow, with deliberately uneven paint application drawing attention to the surface of the canvas while also suggesting the texture and varying colors of a field of grass in summer. A group of five ghostly cows, delineated with only thin, brushstrokes and translucent white pigment, populate the otherwise uninterrupted color block. Separated by a dark, diagonal horizon line of hills, the upper half of the painting is a more complicated arrangement of blue and green shapes interlocked into a collage of bold hues. Overlaying these forms are gestural, broken brushstrokes that hint at foliage but also testify to the creative process and technique of the artist. This stylistic approach imbues the painting with vitality, creating a dancing surface that alludes to movement and the play of light through leaves on a sunny day.
Avery often spent his summers outside New York City and 1955, the year Yellow Meadow was painted, was his second summer at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire. Founded in 1907, this colony for visual artists, writers and composers provided both he and his wife, Sally, with studios, and it is most likely that Yellow Meadow depicts the New Hampshire scenery. As in many of his landscapes, Avery is not interested in transcribing the scene in this lyrical composition, and has deliberately removed the specificity of the scene through his refusal to include the unique details innate to the site. Rather, he is seeking to capture a more profound characteristic in Yellow Meadow, the fundamental spirit of the place. The work exudes the tranquility and serenity of its subject, transcendent and intangible traits. In discussing his work, Avery said, "I always take something out of my pictures...I strip the design to essentials; the facts do not interest me as much as the essence of nature." (as quoted in B. Haskell, Milton Avery, New York, 1982, p. 148)
With works such as Yellow Meadow, Avery is simultaneously continuing and actively transforming the tradition of landscape painting in America. Clement Greenberg wrote in his 1957 essay on the artist, "Avery's is the opposite of what is supposed to be a typical American attitude in that he approaches nature as a subject rather than as an object. One does not manipulate a subject, one meets it. On the other hand, his employment of abstract means for ends--which, however, subtly or subduedly naturalistic, are nevertheless intensely so--is nothing if not American." ("Milton Avery," Arts, vol. 32, December 1957, p. 40) Avery's stylistic evolution towards greater abstraction in later works such as Yellow Meadow is his response to the complexity inherent in his relationship with nature as he continually sought to portray its essence.