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

Mandolin with Pears

Milton Avery (1885-1965)
Mandolin with Pears
signed and dated '19 Milton Avery 45' (lower left)
oil on canvas
33 x 26 in. (83.8 x 66 cm.)
The artist.
Milton Avery Trust, New York.
Grace Borgenicht Gallery, New York, circa 1995.
Private collection, probably acquired from the above.
[With]Martha Parrish & James Reinish, Inc., New York.
Mark Borghi Fine Art, New York, acquired from the above, 2006.
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
David Barnett Gallery, Milton Avery: The 1940s Period, exhibition catalogue, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1989, p. 12, no. 10, illustrated.
Grace Borgenicht Gallery, Milton Avery: Early Promise--Late Fulfillment, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1995, cover illustration.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, David Barnett Gallery, Milton Avery: The 1940s Period, May 22-July 22, 1989, no. 10.
New York, Grace Borgenicht Gallery, Milton Avery: Early Promise--Late Fulfillment, January 5-February 1, 1995.


In Mandolin with Pears, Milton Avery has simplified a group of everyday objects into a series of rudimentary forms. Ripe pears have been transformed into glowing green orbs that balance precariously at the end of an angular blue table, and a mandolin, comprised of a mélange of bright yellow and earthy brown organic shapes, sits nestled between them. Mandolin with Pears highlights Avery's celebrated ability to transform a traditional subject with a fresh and thoroughly modern aesthetic.

In Mandolin with Pears, Avery creates tension and balance through his selection of complimentary and contrasting colors and shapes. While he simplifies the interior scene to the broadest possible forms, he invigorates these shapes through his sophisticated use of variegated hues. Avery sets the highly saturated palette of blue, yellow and green against the more muted tones of the wall and floor. Here, Avery uses blocks of color 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. In 1952, Avery discussed his 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) The shapes of color in the painting are balanced by the hard lines of the table and background juxtaposed with the smooth, curving lines of the instrument and fruit.

Mandolin with Pears was executed during the most critical period of Avery's career. Beyond their commanding presence and widespread appeal, Avery's bold works from the 1940s exerted a highly important influence on Post-War American painting and have been seen as critical forerunners. Avery's works from the mid-1940s had a decisive impact on younger generations of artists such as Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb, who looked to Avery's work to better employ expressive color in their own compositions. In a commemorative essay on the artist from 1965, Rothko commented, "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. For Avery was a great poet-inventor who had invented sonorities never seen nor heard before. From these we have learned much and will learn more for a long time to come." (as quoted in A.D. Breeskin, Milton Avery, exhibition catalogue, 1969, n.p.)

While some artists covered their canvases with sweeping bands of saturated color, others such as Wayne Thiebaud utilized color on a more subtle, yet equally powerful, scale. Like Avery, by employing calculated color relationships and simple forms, Thiebaud elevates the banal in his still life compositions. Guitar, a 1962 work by Thiebaud, depicts a solitary instrument seemingly hovering in suspended motion in front of an expansive white wall. The simplification of the form, outlined in smooth fluid lines and evenly modulated color values, creates an almost abstracted view of the guitar, not dissimilar to Avery's distilled view of the mandolin in Mandolin with Pears. Both artists have relied upon color and line to hint at these recognizable objects. While Avery has used high-keyed hues to demarcate the pictorial elements, Thiebaud has clustered his saturated tones in the outlines of the object. In the area of the headstock alone, Thiebaud has incorporated several vibrant shades of reds, blues, and greens. This aura that surrounds the guitar conveys a sense of visual intrigue to an otherwise prosaic subject. It is evident that Avery's approach to color theory was appreciated and utilized by his successors.

Mandolin with Pears exhibits all of the most celebrated components of Avery's work during the most critical period of his career and wonderfully manifests Hans Hofmann's comment: "Avery was one of the first to understand color as a creative means. He knew how to relate colors in a plastic way. His color actually achieves a life of its own, sometimes lovely and gentle, at other times startlingly tart, yet always subtle and eloquent." (as quoted in Milton Avery, Manchester, Vermont, 1990, p. 1)

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