Nude on a Yellow Blanket was executed in 1946, during a salutory period in Milton Avery's career, when he arrived at his mature style. In addition to their broad popular appeal, Avery's bold abstractions from the 1940s and later exerted a highly important influence on Post-War American painting and have been seen as critical forerunners to the works of Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottleib, among others.
Many scholars attribute the important developments in Avery's style that occurred at this time to his new professional affiliation with Paul Rosenberg's gallery. Avery's 1944 contract with Rosenberg guaranteed sales of fifty works a year, allowing financial security that freed the artist to focus solely on painting. This financial security and new business relationship allowed Avery a clear mind to paint avidly and provided newfound access to Europe's most avant-garde painters and their abstract ideas. Rosenberg had come to this country just four years earlier with a collection of great works by important European artists that provided Avery with a new understanding of abstract representation. As a result, Avery's work from the mid-40's and after has the distinctive character that we have come to associate with the Avery name.
In Nude on a Yellow Blanket, he simplifies the figure and objects to the broadest possible forms, he invigorates these forms through his sophisticated use of highly saturated colors. Avery creates tension and balance through his selection and deposition of color. "There are hazards in this 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. His women--most of his figures are female--read, carry on conversation, talk on the telephone, lie on the beach, or sit around daydreaming. 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, New York, 1962, pp. 17-19)
Instead of remaining with a successful formula, Avery expanded upon it. "As the forties advanced, Avery's concentration on color and the simplification of shapes became increasingly intense. As before, color created the dominant impression and set the emotional tone, but now Avery's choices of colors and their combination became more striking and daring. Multiple layers of pigment were blended together into evenly toned areas marked by Avery's unmistakable color sense. Within these barely modulated color planes Avery created textures by scratching into the paint with a fork or razor, a process which reduced illusionistic recession by calling attention to the two-dimensional surface of the canvas." (B. Haskell, Milton Avery, p. 108)
For Nude on a Yellow Blanket, Avery has created tension and balance by painting complimentary and contrasting colors, shapes and patterns. Avery uses bold colors throughout the work such as the bright pink, yellow, green, purple and blue and has balanced them against the neutral background wall. The artist has also used his technique of scratching the surface of the paint for texture, pairing the smoothness of the figure against the textured curtain and the textured jug against the clean lines of the wall. Once again, in contrast, the shapes of color are balanced by the smooth, curving lines juxtaposed with hard edges; the curving shapes of the nude and blanket against the sharp edges of the bed and the corners of the room and contrasting with the hard-edged wall, Avery has juxtaposed the large billowing curtain and the squat jug. The artist also has given the composition a sense of depth to these shapes as the woman's foot hangs off the edge of the bed in perspective and has painted corners to the room. Avery's hallmark network of patterns lends an expressive feeling to the work, from the large, smooth figure of the nude to the small textured jug in the corner. This painting is a mastery of Avery's use of colors, shapes and patterns that contrast and balance each other.
This painting will be included in Dr. Marla Price's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the works of Milton Avery.