Milton Avery (1885-1965)
Property from a Private Collection, Washington, D.C.
Milton Avery (1885-1965)


Milton Avery (1885-1965)
signed and dated 'Milton Avery 1945' (lower right)
oil and pencil on canvas
36 x 28 1/8 in. (91.4 x 71.4 cm.)
Painted in 1945.
The artist.
Paul Rosenberg & Co., New York, and Durand-Ruel Galleries, New York, acquired from the above, 1946.
Private collection, New York.
Christie's, New York, 26 May 1999, lot 139, sold by the above.
Acquired by the present owner from the above.

Lot Essay

In Anemones, Milton Avery creates tension and balance through his selection of complementary and contrasting colors and shapes. By omitting extraneous details, Avery distills the image to its essence, rather than using traditional chiaroscuro, in order to modulate space in the composition. Avery sets the highly saturated palette of red, blue, green flowers and yellow table against the more muted tones of the blonde figure and interior. The broad swaths of color are both expressive and a way to suggest recession through the planes of color and their arrangement on the two-dimensional surface. Avery noted, "I do not use linear perspective, but achieve depth by color--the function of one color with another. I strip the design to the essentials; the facts do not interest me as much as the essence of nature." (as quoted in R. Hobbs, Milton Avery: The Late Paintings, New York, 2001, p. 51)

Painted in 1945, Anemones dates to a critical period in Avery's artistic evolution, marked by a decisive transformation in which the artist adopted the bright palette and reductive forms that have come to characterize his finest works. While Avery often denied the influence of Henri Matisse on his work, "saying that it was too hedonistic for his taste," (B. Haskell, Milton Avery, New York, 1982, p. 73), the influence of the French artist's style is unmistakable in both palette and compositional elements, particularly in Anemones, where he has combined both figurative and still life elements. Indeed, Barbara Haskell writes, "Matisse remained a major impetus behind his striking adoption of saturated, arbitrary color. Although Avery's awareness of Matisse's work had preceded his affiliation in 1935 with the Valentine Gallery, his new alliance with Matisse's American dealer revitalized his interest in an artist whose sensibilities were much like his own...A similar desire impelled Avery, whose own commitment to color and to form reduction had been firmly established early in his career. But until his contact with Matisse's work, he had not totally embraced the Fauve attitude toward non-associative color, except in isolated paintings. Essentially, Matisse's example gave Avery license to extend the concerns he was already pursuing." (Milton Avery, p. 72)

Beyond their commanding presence and widespread appeal, Avery's bold works from the 1940s exerted a highly important influence on Post-War American painting and have been seen as critical forerunners. Avery's works from this period had a decisive impact on younger generations of artists such as Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb, who looked to Avery's work to better employ expressive color in their own compositions. In a commemorative essay on the artist from 1965, Rothko commented, "There have been several others in our generation who have celebrated the world around them, but none with that inevitability where the poetry penetrated every pore of the canvas to the very last touch of the brush. For Avery was a great poet-inventor who had invented sonorities never seen nor heard before. From these we have learned much and will learn more for a long time to come." (as quoted in A.D. Breeskin, Milton Avery, exhibition catalogue, 1969, n.p.)

Hans Hoffman noted, "Avery was one of the first to understand color as a creative means. He knew how to relate colors in a plastic way. His color actually achieves a life of its own, sometimes lovely and gentle, at other times startlingly tart, yet always subtle and eloquent." (as quoted in Milton Avery, Manchester, Vermont, 1990, p. 1) Anemones embodies this subtlety and eloquence, employing bold hues set against a softer pastel palette with such an economy of means as to achieve maximum success and demonstrate the artist at the height of his abilities.

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