News - Milton Avery: American Colourist


The Royal Academy of Arts in London brings an exhibition of the work of American Colourist Milton Avery to the UK for the first time in July...


Press Release


Milton Avery (1885 – 1965) has long been recognised in the United States as one of the most important and influential twentieth-century American artists. Avery’s compositions, taken from daily life and which include portraits and landscapes, are imbued with a colour sensibility, harmony and balance, which was to have a major influence on the next artistic generation.

Avery played a vital role in the development of Abstract Expressionism through his close association with some of the younger exponents of the movement, such as Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman and Adolph Gottlieb. His work defies distinct categorisation; stretching between American Impressionism and Abstract Expressionism, both of which had a significant impact on his oeuvre, although he was not formally associated with either movement.

Milton Avery: American Colourist at the Royal Academy will cover the full development of Avery’s career. He was famously prolific, and this survey will feature a careful selection of 70 works, including many of his celebrated paintings from 1910 to the 1960s. The last retrospective of his work was held at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1982 and this will be the first solo exhibition of Milton Avery in Europe in a public institution.


The first section, Early Work, will feature work from 1910 up until the late 1930s, covering his main themes; the landscape, the city and the domestic. A number of these works have never been publicly exhibited before. The influence of the American Impressionists and Avery’s early appreciation of the landscape will be revealed. Paintings will include Blossoming, 1918 (New York, Milton Avery Trust) through to Fishing Village, 1939 (New York, The Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation).


In the second section, Portraits, there will be paintings of his family, friends and self-portraits. Featured here will be a portrait of his friends in The Dessert, 1939 (New York, Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)) and Self-Portrait, 1941 (Purchase, Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York). From the early 1940s he ceased formal portraiture but retained the figure in his work.


A section entitled Innovation in Colour and Form will chart the period of innovation from the mid-1940s when Avery developed a system of flattening the compositional forms of his paintings into abstracted tonal planes. It was this development which established him as a major American colourist. His mid-career subjects include scenes of the quotidian; taking from the European Modernist painters the tendency to depict the ordinariness of the subject, and in doing so highlighting the work’s composition. Key works in this section will include two portraits of his daughter March, Seated Girl with Dog, 1944 (Purchase, Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York), and March in Brown, 1954 (Private Collection), as well as Husband and Wife, 1945 (Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art).


And finally in Late Work, paintings from the 1950s to the early 1960s will reveal a continuing influence of European Modernism, particularly Henri Matisse, as Avery increasingly employed non-associative colours in his compositions. There is a strong focus on the landscape and a further paring down of the detail of the subject. These works will show the extent to which Avery perfected his unique ability to balance colour and form in increasingly abstracted compositions, as seen in Black Sea, 1959 (Washington, Phillips Collection), and Boathouse by the Sea, 1959 (New York, Milton Avery Trust).

Having exerted such a profound influence on the young emerging colour field Abstract Expressionist painters, Avery also took much from them – with his scale increasing and these late works becoming less dependent on the figurative content. Mark Rothko said of Avery in his memorial address in 1965, ‘There have been several others in our generation who have celebrated the world around them, but none with that inevitability where the poetry penetrated every pore of the canvas to the very last touch of the brush.’

This new exhibition has organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, London in collaboration with The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. It is curated by Edith Devaney, Managing Director and Curator, David Hockney Foundation. It will be accompanied by a fully illustrated publication written by Edith Devaney, Erin Monroe and Maria Price.

Milton Avery: American Colourist opens to public from Friday 15 July – Sunday 16 October 2022. For more information and to book tickets please visit royalacademy.org.uk.

Images - 

Milton Avery, Little Fox River, 1942, Oil on canvas, 91.8 x 122.2 cm
Collection Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York. Gift of Roy R. Neuberger, Photo: Jim Frank © 2022 Milton Avery Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and DACS, London 2022

Milton Avery, Blossoming, 1918, Oil on board, 27.9 x 38.1 cm
Milton Avery Trust, Photo: Adam Reich © 2022 Milton Avery Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and DACS, London 2022

Milton Avery, Self-Portrait, 1941, Oil on canvas, 137.2 x 86.4 cm
Collection Friends of the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York. Gift from the Estate of Roy R. Neuberger, Photo: Jim Frank © 2022 Milton Avery Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and DACS, London 2022

Milton Avery, Seated Girl with Dog, 1944
Oil on canvas, 111.8 x 81.3 cm, Collection Friends of the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York. Gift from the Estate of Roy R. Neuberger, Photo: Jim Frank © 2022 Milton Avery Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and DACS, London 2022

Milton Avery, Black Sea, 1959
Oil on canvas, 127 x 172.1 cm, The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, © 2022 Milton Avery Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and DACS, London 2022

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