Milton Avery (1885-1965)
Milton Avery (1885-1965)


Milton Avery (1885-1965)
signed and dated 'Milton/Avery/1948' (lower right)
oil on canvas
25 x 40 in. (63.5 x 101.6 cm.)
The artist.
Gift to the present owner from the above, circa 1948.


Nude is a fresh and modern interpretation of the traditional subject of the reclining female that manifests Milton Avery's unique integration of European and American influences. Avery takes a traditional subject and simplifies the composition using a modern approach. In his own words, "I work on two levels. I try to construct a picture in which shapes, spaces, colors form a set of unique relationships, independent of any subject matter. At the same time I try to capture and translate the excitement and emotion aroused in me by the impact with the original idea." (as quoted in R. Hobbs, Milton Avery, New York, 1990, p. 172)

Painted in 1948, Nude has the distinctive character of simplified forms and blocks of color that we have come to associate with Avery's best work. Here he flattens the pictorial space and reduces the composition to its essence in order to explore the role of form and color as compositional devices. He omits extraneous detail and replaces it with suggestive sgraffito and dry, course brushwork. Rather than line and chiaroscuro, he employs simplified shapes of color and pattern to construct the scene. This deliberative primitivism was recognized during Avery's day, as a critic noted in 1944, "Milton a man almost anyone nowadays would recognize instantly as a sophisticate. But he too bothers little about perspective and at times makes use of naïve detail, two facts which may conceivably make it difficult for the historian of five hundred years hence to clarify him exactly...It seems clear to the contemporary eye that what primitivism he displays is of the conscious variety." (Robert Coates as quoted in Milton Avery, p. 68)

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780-1867), The Great Odalisque, 1819. Oil on canvas, 91 x 162 cm. Photo Credit: Runion des Muses Nationaux Art Resource, NY.