At the core of Milton Avery's art is his ability to modernize a familiar domestic scene by transforming it into a carefully orchestrated arrangement of color and pattern. His subjects, whether objects or people, are translated into Avery's unique lexicon of shapes and forms that fit together to become a cohesive whole. Using this basic format, Avery produced oils and watercolors for over three decades. "Throughout the thirty-five years of Avery's mature career - from 1930 to 1965 - his work was largely divided between quiet, contemplative scenes of the natural world and depictions of family and friends playing games, making music, painting, reading, and relaxing at the beach. Regarding Avery's consistent focus on these familiar subjects, Hilton Kramer wrote: 'His wit preserves their freshness, while his elegance confers on them a kind of lyric beauty one normally expects to find in a subject encountered for the first time.'" (B.L. Grad, Milton Avery, Royal Oak, Michigan, 1981, p. 1)
Avery commented on his technique in 1931, "If I have left out the bridles or any other detail that is supposed to go with the horses, trees, or human figure, the only reason for the omissions is that not only are these details unnecessary in the design, but their insertion would disorganize space in the canvas already filled with color or line." (as quoted in R. Hobbs, Milton Avery: The Late Paintings, New York, 2001, p. 51) This simplicity of design and purposeful lack of detail is certainly apparent in Mother and Child. Avery later remarked about his art, "I work on two levels...I try to construct a picture in which shapes, spaces, colors, form a set of unique relationships, independent of any subject matter. At the same time I try to capture and translate the excitement and emotion aroused in me by the impact with the original idea." (as quoted in B. Haskell, Milton Avery, New York, 1982, p. 156) With Mother and Child, Avery develops this delicate tension between the depiction of his subject and a recognizable element of realism - a vivid and forceful style that works in tandem with his color schemes and composition to create successful canvases.
Avery further creates tension and balance in the present work by painting complimentary and contrasting colors, shapes and patterns. In constructing the environment for his figures, he uses a range of subdued browns and grays for the floor, back wall, and the table's drapery. His verticals, horizontals and diagonals underline a rigid, bare atmosphere within the room. The figures, however, boldly colored and simply drawn, resisting hard angles, stand markedly out against this backdrop, with a surprising sense of vitality. "There are hazards in this [simple] approach to the figure, but Avery has somehow side-stepped the greatest of these, namely, a sense of fixity that would deprive his figures of animation. The characteristic attitude of Avery's figures is one of relaxation and repose...They project a presence that, however disinterested, is far removed from the pictorial stasis that the artist's method might seem to hold in store for them. The reason, of course, is that Avery's color imparts an emotional drama, a weight of emphasis and nuance, that recapitulates on the level of retinal sensation whatever graphic complexities have eliminated in the process." (H. Kramer, Milton Avery: Paintings 1920-1960, pp. 17-19) His approach to form and color in Mother and Child is akin to his approach in many of his works during the second half of the 1940s, when he produced some of his most interesting and sought-after works.
This work will be included in Dr. Marla Price's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the works of Milton Avery.