Milton Avery

Milton Avery - Blue Nude
Blue Nude
Oil on board
9 1/2 x 20 inches
Signed lower right: "Milton Avery 1951"

Additional Work

Blue Nude

Milton Avery (1885-1965)
Blue Nude by the Sea, 1951
Oil on board
9 1/2 x 20 inches
Signed lower right: "Milton Avery 1951"
The artist
Harold Diamond, New York
Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Bregstein, Los Angeles, acquired 1958
Milton Avery is one of those immensely rare and fortunate artists to have inspired both a
serious and popular following, making him a painter's painter as well as an American
icon. Beginning in the 1930s, he became close friends with three young artists who
would become major Abstract Expressionists in the '40s: Adolph Gottlieb, Barnett
Newman, and Mark Rothko. The great esteem these younger painters accorded Avery
continued throughout their lives, and despite their very distinct styles, all three emulated
his special handling of color both in their work and in public and private verbal
testaments. In their often-cited co-authored letter to the New York Times in 1943, a
statement correctly regarded as a manifesto of early Abstract Expressionist style,
Gottlieb and Rothko at one point describe their art in terms apposite to Avery's own
distinctive style of painting:
“We favor the simple expression of the complex thought. We are for the large shape
because it has the impact of the unequivocal. We wish to reassert the picture plane. We
are for flat forms because they destroy illusion and reveal truth.” (1)
This preference for simplicity and large forms is exemplified in Avery’s Blue Nude
(1951), which distills the multifaceted human figure into one seamless, uninterrupted
shape, the concave curve of the figure’s torso connecting fluidly with the angular lower
extremities. A signature of his mature style, Avery blends realism and abstraction in the
piece. The human figure is recognizable, but not portrayed with realistic, anatomical
exactitude. He emphasizes flatness by eliminating any shading and utilizing bands of
solid color; a muted beach and sky appear divided by a bold and unexpected black
horizon line that suggests a degree of unwavering finality.
As Sally Michel Avery commented in 1988, “Milton realized the continual challenge. He
knew that art is a discipline without end and that the subject is only the beginning.” (2)
The process of painting was as important to Avery as the conceptual planning. While he
often said he had a picture completely painted in his mind’s eye before he laid brush to
canvas, he did allow for improvisation, especially with color, as he created his works.
This spontaneity enabled him to create paintings filled with the poetic, lyrical play of
forms and colors against one another.
After abandoning the palette knife, Milton Avery focused upon the surface quality of his
works. Like many artists in the early 1950s, Avery sought to maximize the absorption of
paint into his canvases. Frederick S. Wright notes in Avery’s works of this period, “The
fluency expresses itself in technique: the paint itself is fluent and oil is handled like
watercolor.” (3) Blue Nude (1951) is a prime example of this experimentation of
translating oil into watercolor. Avery would joke about how the paint salesman would
lose money on him, because he did not purchase as much pigment as he once had in
the past.
Born in Sand Bank (now Altmar), Connecticut, March 7, 1885, Milton Clark Avery began
his artistic career as a teenager and painted almost daily until two years before his
death in 1965. He left school at the age of sixteen to work at the Hartford Machine and
Screw Company and the Underwood Manufacturing Company in Connecticut
assembling machine parts to support his family. Sometime after his father died in 1905,
Avery began taking art classes at the Connecticut League of Art Students in Hartford
and studied there on a part-time basis until 1918. He continued his studies in art at the
School of the Art Society of Hartford and eventually became a member of the
Connecticut Academy of the Fine Arts. Soon after meeting Sally Michel on a summer
trip to Gloucester, Massachusetts, Avery followed her to New York City and the couple
married in 1926.
The Averys quickly became part of the lively and exciting art scene in Manhattan. Milton
enrolled in classes at the Art Students League and frequented sketch classes there until
1938. He first exhibited at the Wadsworth Atheneum’s Fifth Annual Exhibition of Oil
Paintings and Sculpture in 1915, but soon after his arrival in New York he began
showing regularly. His work was included in the Society of Independent Artists
exhibition in 1927. The following year fellow artist Bernard Karifol selected two of his
paintings for a group show at the Opportunity Gallery in New York, which included works
by Mark Rothko, with whom Avery became especially close and who introduced him to
Barnett Newman and Adolph Gottlieb. Beginning in 1932, the Averys began summering
in Gloucester with Rothko, Gottlieb, and Newman, and in the same year, his only child,
a daughter named March, was born.
From the late 1920s to the 1940s, Avery’s reputation grew at a rapid pace. He won
numerous awards and collectors such as Duncan Phillips and Albert Barnes began
acquiring his works. From 1935 to 1943 Avery was represented by Valentine Gallery
and from 1943 to 1950 by Paul Rosenfeld & Company Gallery. He had his first solo
museum exhibition at the Phillips Memorial Gallery in Washington, D.C. in 1944 and his
first retrospective showing at the Durand-Ruel Galleries in 1947. In the late 1940s,
Avery began to experiment with dry point and monotype prints. He also ended his
affiliation with Rosenberg, who sold his inventory of Avery paintings to Roy Neuberger.
In the late 1940s, Avery suffered his first major heart attack, an illness from which he
never completely recovered.
The period from 1950 until 1963 was a time of transitions and change for Avery. In
1951, he joined the newly established Grace Borgenicht Gallery in New York. The
following year, he traveled to Europe for the first time and visited London, Paris, and the
French Rivera. He spent the summer months during the 1950s at various art colonies
including The MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, the Yaddo Art
Colony near Saratoga Springs, New York, and Provincetown, Massachusetts. He
continued to paint, despite failing health, but suffered a second heart attack in 1960 that
truly incapacitated him. He was honored with two retrospective exhibitions during this
time, one at The Baltimore Museum of Art in 1952 and another at The Whitney Museum
of American Art in 1960. In 1963, Milton Avery painted his last work and died two years
later on January 3, 1965 in New York City.
Avery’s style evolved from Impressionism to modernism, and by the 1930s he had
developed his signature style combining abstraction with representational forms to
create a unified whole. This unique style, often depicting scenes from the natural world
and images of the artist’s family, has become part of the canon of modernism.
1. Adolph Gottlieb and Mark Rothko, "Letter to Edwin A. Jewell," New York Times, 13
June 1943. Barnett Newman worked on this letter with Gottlieb and Rothko, but did not
sign it, since he had not shown in the exhibition Jewell had reviewed.
2. Frederick S. Wright, Milton Avery (Baltimore, MD: Baltimore Museum of Art, 1952), p.
3. Milton Avery: Still Life Paintings (New York: Grace Borgenicht Gallery, 1988),

Post War Inventory