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Milton Avery (1885-1965)
Milton Avery (1885-1965)
Milton Avery (1885-1965)
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Fields of Vision: The Private Collection of Artists Wolf Kahn and Emily Mason
Milton Avery (1885-1965)

Interior with Yellow Lamp

Details
Milton Avery (1885-1965)
Interior with Yellow Lamp
signed and dated 'Milton/Avery 1949' (lower right); signed again and inscribed '16 x 20' (on the reverse)
oil on canvasboard
15 ¾ x 19 ¾ in. (40 x 50.2 cm.)
Painted in 1949.
Provenance
(Probably) Acquired directly from the artist by the late owners

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Lot Essay

Interior with Yellow Lamp hung for many years by the front door of Wolf Kahn and Emily Mason’s New York City apartment.

Emily Mason’s mother, the abstract artist Alice Trumbull Mason, was friends with fellow artists Milton and Sally Avery. On occasion, the Averys even babysat for Mason, who was a classmate and close friend of their daughter March. When Mason and Kahn were courting in Provincetown, Massachusetts, in the summer of 1956, Kahn went out painting with Milton Avery and admired the elder artist’s commitment and confidence in his painting practice. The Avery and Kahn families would remain close over the following decades. In 1983, Kahn wrote an article for the Art Journal entitled “Milton Avery’s Good Example,” praising, “If Avery was ever ambitious…it never showed except in his deep commitment to the act of painting.” (Art Journal, vol. 43, no. 1, Spring 1983, pp. 87-88)

Interior with Yellow Lamp depicts the Avery family's New York apartment located at 294 West 11th street. Painted with a kaleidoscopic array of hues, including vibrant orange, red, blue and green, the present work is a potent example of Avery’s commanding use of color. At center, the figure rests on the sofa in repose—her right foot nonchalantly extended on the sofa, the other on the ottoman just in front. A royal blue and mauve wall serves as an arresting backdrop for this quiet moment of relaxation in the comfort of one’s own home. The lamp’s striking shade of dandelion yellow instantly draws the viewer’s eye into the composition, while the light blue vase on the coffee table completes the harmonious and whimsical composition.

Painted in 1949, Avery completed Interior with Yellow Lamp during the most critical period of his career. The artist's works from the mid-to-late-40s have the distinctive hallmarks of simplified forms and blocks of color that characterize his most celebrated paintings. In addition to their broad popular appeal, Avery's bold abstracted compositions exerted a highly important influence on Post-War American painting and were critical forerunners to the works of Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb, among others. Indeed, Avery’s remarks on his practice astutely describe the qualities evident in Interior with Yellow Lamp: "I like to seize the one sharp instant in Nature," wrote Avery, "to imprison it by means of ordered shapes and space relationships. To this end I eliminate and simplify, leaving apparently nothing but color and pattern. I am not seeking pure abstraction; rather, the purity and essence of the idea--expressed in its simplest form." (as quoted in R. Hobbs, Milton Avery: The Late Paintings, New York, 2001, p. 53)

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