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

Three Figures and a Dog

Milton Avery (1885-1965)
Three Figures and a Dog
signed 'Milton Avery' (lower center)
oil on canvas
32¼ x 43 in. (82 x 109.2 cm.)
Painted circa 1941.
Beatrice Renfield, New York.
Estate of the above.
By descent to the present owner from the above.


As early as 1940, Milton Avery had begun to simplify the forms and details in his compositions, paring down elements to explore the formal qualities of the composition. "By broadly generalizing contours, and minimizing shapes and graphic details, he sought to transcend the particular factual accidents of his subjects and capture their universality--whether of individual form or of essential relationships between objects." (B. Haskell, Milton Avery, New York, 1982, p. 117) Painted circa 1941, Three Figures and a Dog is an important work that demonstrates the birth of Avery's mature style.

In Three Figures and a Dog Avery modernizes a familiar domestic scene of women in an interior. The work most likely depicts his wife Sally and his daughter March, sitting together in the family's living room. The artist characteristically renders the three figures through a strict, plastic two-dimensional design. By simplifying the women, dog and furniture, he invigorates these forms through his sophisticated use of highly saturated colors. Here, Avery uses blocks of magenta, orange, green and white both as expression and as a way to modulate space, as he suggests recession through the planes of color and their arrangement on the two-dimensional surface. "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)