Browse Lots

Global notice COVID-19 Important notice
Milton Avery (1885-1965)
Property from the Estate of Edgar M. Bronfman Few individuals have contributed so greatly to contemporary Jewish life as Edgar M. Bronfman. A visionary businessman and unyielding advocate for world Jewry, Mr. Bronfman translated his tremendous success at the Seagram Company into a decades-long journey in philanthropy, dedicating himself to promoting a "Jewish renaissance" whose effects continue to be felt to this day. Edgar M. Bronfman joined his family's Canadian distillery business at just 21 years old, working as an apprentice taster and accounting clerk before quickly ascending the executive ranks. In 1957, he took over Seagram's American subsidiary, and in 1971 was placed at the head of the entire company, where he implemented a series of diversifying moves that secured Seagram's position as one of the world's most innovative firms. With the resources acquired via his business success, Mr. Bronfman devoted his energies to the cause of the Jewish people, becoming a kind of ambassador for the ways in which Judaic learning, culture, and history could enrich the lives of all peoples. "My goal," Mr. Bronfman wrote, "is to build a Jewish future by working to form a knowledgeable, proud and welcoming Jewish community throughout the world." After he was elected president of the World Jewish Congress in 1981, Edgar M. Bronfman began a series of remarkable international campaigns for the security and prosperity of the Jewish people. Under his 26-year tenure, the WJC became the world's preeminent Jewish institution, recognized by world leaders as a formidable voice in diplomatic affairs. Of particular note was Mr. Bronfman's role in advocating for Jewish rights and well-being in the Soviet Union, and in 1985 he became the first WJC president to be formally received by the Kremlin. Convinced of the need to present a strong and unified Jewish voice, Mr. Bronfman earned a reputation amongst world leaders and diplomats as a resolute, tireless negotiator. Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hailed him as a "champion for justice and human dignity," adding that he "exuded a confidence and honesty that won him the friendship and support of presidents and popes and people everywhere." In 1982, Mr. Bronfman became the first representative of a Jewish organization to speak before the United Nations, and in the 1990s he spearheaded the WJC's campaign to recover Jewish property seized during the upheavals and aftermath of the Second World War. Mr. Bronfman continually expanded his efforts, serving as president of the World Jewish Restitution Organization and chairman of the United States Commission on Holocaust Era Assets. Behind Edgar M. Bronfman's international advocacy in the World Jewish Congress was his belief in Jewish culture, heritage, and values. He forever cherished the traditions at the heart of Judaism: learning, pluralism, debate, and enquiry-the essential components for the faith's continued relevance. As founder, president, and chairman of the Samuel Bronfman Foundation-named in honor of his father, a Canadian businessman and philanthropist-Mr. Bronfman focused on international engagement, bringing Jewish knowledge to people of all backgrounds. Mr. Bronfman was justly proud of his outreach to young Jews, particularly via Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, and the Bronfman Youth Fellowships. He revived Hillel in the 1990s, transforming it into the largest Jewish campus organization in the world, with chapters reaching beyond the United States to Russia, Eastern Europe, Israel, and South America. He founded the prestigious Bronfman Youth Fellowship program in 1987, challenging future Jewish thinkers, writers, and leaders from Israel and North America to deepen their understanding of Judaism and the importance of social responsibility. As his own life was enriched with serious intellectual study and hard work, so were the lives of young people enriched by Edgar M. Bronfman's tremendous generosity. Under Mr. Bronfman's leadership, the Samuel Bronfman Foundation provided support to organizations including the 92nd Street Y; the American Jewish World Service; Birthright Israel; the Bronfman Center at New York University, and the UJA. As the potential for philanthropic outreach expanded in the digital age, the Foundation oversaw initiatives such as MyJewishLearning.com and Kveller, a website focused on Jewish parenting. In 2012, Edgar M. Bronfman joined the world's greatest philanthropic leaders in signing the Giving Pledge. "By enabling people to do good work," he wrote upon signing the Pledge, "I participate in a brighter future for the Jewish people and, I hope, all of humanity." Edgar M. Bronfman was the author of Hope, Not Fear, The Third Act, The Making of a Jew, Good Spirits, and the Bronfman Haggadah, illustrated by his wife, Jan Aronson. Internationally recognized for his prodigious giving and dedication, Mr. Bronfman was inducted into the French Legion of Honor; was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Bill Clinton, the Leo Baeck Medal, the Hillel Renaissance Award, and the Justice Louis D. Brandeis Award; and was bestowed honorary degrees from the University of Rochester, New York University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tulane University, Williams College, and Pace University. Michael Steinhardt of the Hillel Foundation called Mr. Bronfman "the great Jew of his era," while Dana Raucher, executive director of the Samuel Bronfman foundation, noted that "Edgar showed how vision and long-term thinking can impact the entire landscape of Jewish life." In his absolute devotion to humanitarianism and the Judaic traditions that informed his life, Edgar M. Bronfman stands as an inspirational figure for people of all backgrounds-a testament to the power of belief in the modern world. Property from the Estate of Edgar M. Bronfman
Milton Avery (1885-1965)

The Mandolin Player

Details
Milton Avery (1885-1965)
The Mandolin Player
signed and dated 'Milton Avery 1946' (lower right)
oil on canvas laid down on board
36 x 28 in. (91.4 x 71.1 cm.)
Provenance
Mrs. Wellington S. Henderson, Hillsborough, California.
Sotheby's, New York, 21 May 1975, lot 177.
(Possibly) Acquired by the late owner from the above.

Lot Essay

The success of Milton Avery's work lies in his ability to modernize a familiar domestic scene by transforming it into a carefully orchestrated arrangement of color and pattern. He translates his subjects, whether objects or people into a unique lexicon of shapes and forms that fit together to become a cohesive whole. The Mandolin Player is exemplary of Avery's unique ability to convey a harmonious narrative through skillful placement of color and form.

In the present work, the female figure gently strums her mandolin in what appears to be a simple interior setting. Fundamental to Avery's style, the pictorial space has been condensed into a flattened two-dimensional picture plane. Using broad strokes of color to delineate the familiar objects, Avery has reduced the composition to a myriad of shapes that creates a harmonious puzzle of abstract forms. As Hilton Kramer notes of Avery's work, "Figures and the objects around them are divested of identifying detail and simplified to flat, cutout forms, which are then reinvested with the strength of Avery's color, which, in turn, can generate its peculiar plastic force only because every part of the canvas is locked into a position of maximum expressive balance." (Milton Avery: Paintings, 1930-1960, New York, 1962, p. 17)

Painted in 1946, The Mandolin Player was executed during the most critical period of Avery's career. The mid-1940s proved to be a defining time for his mature style. Many scholars attribute the important stylistic developments in his work of this period to his new professional affiliation with Paul Rosenberg's gallery. Avery's relationship with Rosenberg exposed him to modern European artists and their abstract ideals. Rosenberg arrived in America in 1940, bringing with him a cache of great works by important European artists that provided Avery with a new understanding of abstract representation. Barbara Haskell has explained these influences, "Rosenberg's proclivity for taut structure and architectonic solidity encouraged Avery to emphasize these aspects of his work. He replaced the brushy paint application and graphic detailing that had informed his previous efforts with denser more evenly modulated areas of flattened color contained with crisply delineated forms. The result was a more abstract interlocking of shapes and a shallower pictorial space than he had previously employed. Avery retained color as the primary vehicle of feeling and expression, but achieved a greater degree of abstraction by increasing the parity between recognizable forms and abstract shapes." ("Milton Avery: The Metaphysics of Color," Milton Avery: Paintings from the Collection of the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, New York, 1994, pp. 8-9)

Avery has cleverly imbued The Mandolin Player with a lyrical sense of music and motion as the colors and their relations to one another hum with expressive rhythm. The highly saturated palette of greens, blues, oranges and pinks is representative of Avery's works from the mid-1940s, as is his use of blocks of color as a method of modulating space.

The Mandolin Player exhibits all of the most celebrated components of Avery's work during the most critical period of his career and wonderfully manifests Hans Hofmann's comment: "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)

More from American Art

View All
View All