Milton Avery (1885-1965)
Property from a Distinguished West Coast Collection
Milton Avery (1885-1965)

Nude on the Beach

Milton Avery (1885-1965)
Nude on the Beach
signed and dated 'Milton Avery 1943' (lower left)
oil on canvas
36 x 42 in. (91.4 x 106.7 cm.)
The artist.
Mr. and Mrs. Mermey, acquired from the above, circa 1944-45.
Constance Mermey Yates, by descent, 1977.
Private collection, Boca Raton, Florida, circa 1989.
Arij Gasiunasen Fine Art, Inc., Palm Beach, Florida.
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1991.


Painted in 1943, Nude on the Beach represents a pivotal point in Milton Avery's career in which he established his highly acclaimed, mature style. The flattened pictorial space, simplified forms and blocks of color that define the painting exemplify the distinctive character of Avery's work from the mid-1940s. The artist would continue to explore these stylistic elements throughout his career, creating a highly personal, visual lexicon that defines his greatest works. Nude on the Beach is one of the earliest works to manifest Avery's unique, thoroughly modern style. Works such as Nude on the Beach were not only greeted by public acclaim, these bold abstractions also exerted an 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 characteristics of Avery's style to his professional affiliation with Paul Rosenberg, who exposed him to modern European artists and their abstract ideals. Similar to Alfred Stieglitz a generation earlier, when Rosenberg arrived in America in 1940, he brought a cache of great works by important European artists, providing their American counterparts with a new understanding of abstract representation. Avery did not mimic these European artists, rather he incorporated their influences into his style, resulting in seminal works such as Nude on the Beach. Barbara Haskell discusses these influences, noting that "Rosenberg's proclivity for taut structure and architectonic solidity encouraged Avery to emphasize these aspects of his work. He replaced the brushy paint application and graphic detailing that had informed his previous efforts with denser more evenly modulated areas of flattened color contained with crisply delineated forms. The result was a more abstract interlocking of shapes and a shallower pictorial space than he had previously employed. Avery retained color as the primary vehicle of feeling and expression, but achieved a greater degree of abstraction by increasing the parity between recognizable forms and abstract shapes." ("Milton Avery: The Metaphysics of Color" in Milton Avery: Paintings from the Collection of the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, New York, 1994, pp. 8-9)

In Nude on the Beach, Avery masterfully creates a tension and balance through his selection of complimentary and contrasting colors and forms. He uses blocks of color both as expression and as a way to modulate space, suggesting recession through the arrangement of planes of color on the two-dimensional surface. While he flattens the pictorial space and simplifies the scene to the broadest possible forms, he invigorates these shapes through his sophisticated use of variegated hues. Nude on the Beach demonstrates the central role of color in Avery's work as he uses it to create depth, express texture and to evoke sensations associated with scene. He also employs harmonious colors to create compositional unity. Avery discussed this use of color, "I do not use linear perspective, but achieve depth by color--the function of one color with another. I strip the design to the essentials; the facts do not interest me as much as the essence of nature." (as quoted in R. Hobbs, Milton Avery: The Late Paintings, New York, 2001, p. 51)

In the present work, Avery adeptly utilizes simplified planes of greens, browns, whites and grays, setting them against one another to create a sense of depth and visual complexity. These shapes of color are balanced by the hard lines of the horizon and rocky outcroppings of coastline, which are juxtaposed with the smooth, curving lines of the figure. In Nude on the Beach, Avery characteristically renders his figure through a strict, plastic two-dimensional design. "There are hazards in this approach to the figure," writes Hilton Kramer, "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." (Milton Avery: Paintings 1920-1960, New York, 1962, pp. 17-19)

Nude on the Beach is exemplary of Avery's paintings from the 1940s and includes all of the hallmarks that are distinctive of the artist's best works. "I like to seize the one sharp instant in Nature," wrote Avery, "to imprison it by means of ordered shapes and space relationships. To this end I eliminate and simplify, leaving apparently nothing but color and pattern. I am not seeking pure abstraction; rather, the purity and essence of the idea--expressed in its simplest form." (as quoted in Milton Avery: The Late Paintings, p. 53)