Milton Avery’s Gray Nude is a fresh and modern interpretation of the traditional subject of the standing nude. Here he utilizes simplified planes of browns and grays, setting them against one another to create visual complexity and a flattened pictorial space. In Gray Nude, Avery characteristically renders his figure through a strict, plastic two-dimensional design. Though flattened, the work is not static. "There are hazards in this approach to the figure," writes Hilton Kramer, "but Avery has somehow side-stepped the greatest of these, namely, a sense of fixity that would deprive his figures of animation.” (Milton Avery: Paintings 1930-1960, New York, 1962, pp. 17-19)
Avery’s shift in style from his earlier, more detailed compositions and impastoed paint application to the more modernist approach in Gray Nude can be attributed to his joining Paul Rosenberg’s gallery in the 1940s. Rosenberg arrived in New York from Paris in 1940 and exposed Avery to modern European artists through the many paintings he brought with him. Though Henri Matisse’s paintings are often cited as a source of inspiration for Avery, the influence of Pablo Picasso is also apparent in his works, especially in Gray Nude. As Picasso’s dealer, Rosenberg would have surely had examples of his works in his New York gallery for Avery to study. Picasso often worked in tones of gray throughout his career, similar to the ones seen in the present work.