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

Shapes of Spring

Milton Avery (1885-1965)
Shapes of Spring
signed and dated 'Milton Avery 1952' (lower left)
oil on canvas
34 x 38 in. (86.4 x 96.5 cm.)
Painted in 1952.
Grace Borgenicht Gallery, Inc., New York.
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1979.
R. Hobbs, Milton Avery, New York, 1990, p. 184, illustrated.
S. McDevitt, "Milton Avery," Frieze: Contemporary Art and Culture, vol. 71, November-December 2002, p. 95.
Baltimore, Maryland, Baltimore Museum of Art, Milton Avery, December 9, 1952-January 18, 1953, p. 19, no. 82 (as Spring in Maine).
New York, Grace Borgenicht Gallery, Inc., Milton Avery and His Friends, January 28-February 24, 1978, no. 15, back cover illustration.
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Carnegie Institute; Fort Worth, Texas, Fort Worth Art Museum; Buffalo, New York, Albright-Knox Art Gallery; Denver, Colorado, Denver Art Museum; Minneapolis, Minnesota, Walker Art Center, Milton Avery, September 15, 1982-October 30, 1983, pp. 91, 224, no. 68, illustrated.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Milwaukee Art Museum; West Palm Beach, Florida, Norton Museum of Art, Milton Avery: The Late Paintings, November 30, 2001-May 12, 2002, pp. 18, 36-37, 104, pl. 15, illustrated.


Painted in 1952, Milton Avery’s Shapes of Spring is a dramatic example of the artist's ability to compose powerful landscapes through a reduction of the natural environment into an arrangement of color-field shapes. "I like to seize the one sharp instant in Nature," writes 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." (as quoted in R. Hobbs, Milton Avery: The Late Paintings, New York, 2001, p. 53).

Karl Emil Wilers writes of the artist's work in the 1950s, “Avery's ability to handle the brush with an experimental freedom and expressive fluency is clearly evident. The broadness, length, and direction of the strokes usually remain the same within a defined area of the canvas, but dramatic changes often occur between fields. The turbulent and swirling swatches of paint serve to more clearly demarcate the distinct, simplified color shapes of the composition, rather than blur them.” (K.E. Willers, Milton Avery & The End of Modernism, New York, 2011, p. 30) This approach is evident in Shapes of Spring. Patches of shades of pink, orange and green in the foreground correspond to the trees in the background. Avery also utilizes textural effects within the broad shapes of the composition. For example, the trees are made up of calligraphic squiggles, as graffito technique which appears in many of Avery’s compositions in the 1950s.

In Shapes of Spring, the scene is at once recognizable as a landscape, with identifiable elements such as the trees, and yet abstract, as these shapes have not been so much transcribed but rather interpreted from nature. Consequently, the forms represent not simply familiar landscape elements but also planes of pure color, which come together to create a synthetic harmony that characterizes the work as uniquely Avery.

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