Executed in 1944, Female Artists by Sea is a superb example of Milton Avery's best works on paper from his most celebrated period. Hilton Kramer writes of Avery's masterful use of watercolor in works such as Female Artists by Sea, "The watercolor medium has been a great aid to Avery both in consolidating his visual memories...and in achieving the structural simplicity that is the rock on which everything else in his painting rests." (Milton Avery: Paintings, 1930-1960, New York, 1962, p. 17) With dashing brushwork and a characteristic economy of detail, in Female Artists by Sea, Avery succeeds in capturing a moment of summer calm as two figures sketch in a tranquil coastal setting.
In 1944, Avery entered into a contractual agreement with gallery owner Paul Rosenberg. Many scholars attribute the important characteristics of Avery's style to his professional affiliation with Rosenberg who exposed him to modern European artists and their abstract ideals. When Rosenberg arrived in America in 1940, he brought a cache of great works by important European artists, many of whom provided Avery with a new understanding of abstract representation. Barbara Haskell has explained the influence this relationship had on Avery's work, "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," in Milton Avery: Paintings from the Collection of the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, New York, 1994, pp. 8-9)
In Female Artists by Sea Avery has reduced a scene of seaside leisure into a flattened, two dimensional space. Using a high vantage point, he radically simplifies the natural and figural elements presenting a strict plastic assembly of distorted forms. He eliminates all local color, employing instead vivid hues of pink and yellow juxtaposed against bolder applications of black and red, using color as a vehicle to add a distinct flair that is representative of his highly personalized style.
According to the Milton Avery Trust, the present work likely depicts the artist's wife, Sally, and daughter, March, on the beach in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where the family spent the summers from 1920 to 1945. Beyond its longstanding repute as an artistic community, Gloucester also held sentimental significance for Milton Avery as it was where he first met Sally Michel in 1921. "Avery's closely-knit family provided a nearly archetypal oasis of calm, inspiration and love...Art was a vital and integral part of his family life. It is significant that he painted in the living room of his house rather than in the isolation of a studio, for his art did not demand the privacy of an exclusive ritualistic space." (B.L. Grad, Milton Avery, Royal Oak, Michigan, 1981, p. 1914) Indeed, Female Artists by Sea demonstrates Avery's artistic commitment to distill those sentimental memories of the idle hours of summers by the sea with expressive color and simplicity of form.