October 9, 2016


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Lot 114: Milton Avery

Lot 114: Milton Avery

Approaching Storm

Watercolor on paper
Signed "Milton Avery" lower right; bears the inscription "121" lower left; bears the inscription "3765 A" verso; retains the William Benton Museum of Art, the Summit Art Center, and the Phillips Collection exhibition labels verso; retains André Emmerich Gallery label verso
Sheet: 22" x 31"; Frame: 31" x 39"
Provenance: André Emmerich Gallery, New York, New York;
Private Collection, Bethesda, Maryland (acquired directly from the above, c. 1977)
Exhibited: "Milton Avery and the Landscape," William Benton Museum of Art, Storrs, March 15-April 16, 1976; "Milton Avery: Drawings & Paintings," traveling exhibition, the University of Texas Art Museum, Austin, December 5, 1976-February 6, 1977; Summit Art Center, Summit, March 13-April 17, 1977; the Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., May 21-June 19, 1977
Literature: Milton Avery and the Landscape. William Benton Museum of Art exh. cat. 1976. #5.; Milton Avery: Drawings & Paintings. University of Texas Art Museum exh. cat. 1976. 25, 55.
Estimate: $30,000 - $50,000
Price Realized: $43,750
Inventory Id: 23113

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Described by critic Hilton Kramer as "without question, our greatest colorist," the work of Milton Avery (1885-1965) represents a key turning point in the history of American art. Working between figuration and abstraction, Avery delineated his forms by the simplest possible means and painted flat planes of vivid color, reminiscent of the saturated tones employed by Fauvist artists like Matisse and Franz Marc. Hailing from Altmar, New York, Avery spent his early career working in a succession of blue-collar jobs. He began painting in his spare time and taking classes at the Art Students League of New York in the 1920s. Despite his obscure origins, Avery acquired some prominent admirers, with Barnett Newman, Adolph Gottlieb, and Mark Rothko forming a close circle around the artist--the latter showed with Avery at the Opportunity Gallery in New York and became a close friend of the artist and his wife. It is thought that Rothko's later use of thinned paint can be traced back to the weekly sketching sessions held at Avery's apartment. Avery did not espouse any particular artistic theories, nor was he associated with any school of art, yet his radical approach to painting proved deeply influential for generations of abstract artists to come.

Approaching Storm (1938) is an early work on paper depicting a rugged coastline and a dramatic stormy sky in Gaspé, Quebec. Smooth, flat banks of sandy yellow and brown contrast with the brusquely-painted black clouds. Executed in watercolors, Avery judiciously balanced dry and wet sections of the work to convey a sense of light as well as deep shadow. Curiously bereft of people, Avery skillfully captures the foreboding associated with a coming storm. The atmospheric effects achieved in this work, produced before Avery received wider recognition in the New York art scene, are typical of his paintings from this period. As his widow Sally Avery explained, Avery was fascinated by "the landscape and the seascape...I love what Rothko said--out of these homely subjects great poems are made. It wasn't the subject that was great; it was Milton that was great. And he took these ordinary subjects and infused them with a great deal of poetry." Understated yet eloquent, Approaching Storm is a typically masterful work by this seminal 20th century artist.

Kramer, Hilton. "Avery, Our Greatest Colorist." New York Times. 12 Apr. 1981. Web. 28 Aug. 2016. Raynor, Vivian. "Milton Avery: Paintings on Paper at the Whitney." New York Times. 10 Oct. 1982. Web. 28 Aug. 2016. "Oral history interview with Sally Avery." Archives of American Art. Smithsonian Institution, 19 Feb. 1982. Web. 28 Aug. 2016.