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

Woman with Rebozo

Milton Avery (1885-1965)
Woman with Rebozo
signed and dated 'Milton/Avery 1947' (lower right)
oil on canvas
44 x 32 in. (111.8 x 81.3 cm.)
Painted in 1947.
Grace Borgenicht Gallery, Inc., New York, 1979.
ACA Galleries, New York.
Mr. and Mrs. Fred Rudin, Atlantic Beach, New York, by 1981.
Richard York Gallery, New York.
Private collection, New York.
Christie’s, New York, 25 May 1989, lot 379A, sold by the above.
Acquired by the late owners from the above.
L.A. Paris, "Six Artists and a Model," Collier's Weekly, July 3, 1948, p. 20, illustrated.
E. Gibson, “New York Letter: Milton Avery,” Art International, vol. 23, April 1979, p. 46.
R. Ellsworth, et al., The David and Peggy Rockefeller Collection: Arts of Asia and Neighboring Cultures, vol. III, New York, 1993, p. 439.
New York, Grace Borgenicht Gallery, Inc., Milton Avery in the Forties, February 3-March 1, 1979.
Roslyn, New York, Nassau County Museum of Fine Art, In the Footsteps of the Medici, April-July 1982.
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Woman with Rebozo, which is named for a shawl commonly worn by women in Mexico, was inspired by a three-month vacation Milton Avery took to that country in the summer of 1946 with his wife and daughter. During his travels in Mexico City, San Miguel Allende and other south-of-the-border locales, the artist made several quick notebook sketches, observing specific colors and atmospheric conditions. Robert Hobbs writes, “In Mexico he found the saturated local colors of folk art, flowers, native clothing, and markets completely in tune with the direction he had been taking.” (Milton Avery, New York, 1990, p. 144) While still on vacation, he painted watercolors based on these drawings, but only when he returned to New York did he create Mexico-inspired paintings in oil, such as the present work.

Painted in 1947, Woman with Rebozo was executed during the most critical period of Avery’s career. Indeed, his work from the mid- to late-1940s has the distinctive character of simplified forms and blocks of color associated with the artist’s most notable paintings. In addition to their broad popular appeal, Avery’s bold abstractions exerted a highly important influence on Post-War American painting and have been identified as critical forerunners to the works of Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottleib, among others.

As is typical of Avery’s style, in Woman with Rebozo, the artist creates tension and balance through his selection of complementary and contrasting colors and shapes. As seen in photographs of Avery preparing sketches for this work, the artist posed his model, nineteen-year-old Edith Franklin, dressed in the titular striped Mexican shawl and in the context of his own, somewhat cluttered, apartment studio. However, in the final work, Avery simplifies the scene to the broadest possible forms, removing the excess detail yet invigorating the shapes through his sophisticated use of variegated hues. The expressive planes of color modulate space and suggest recession. For example, in Woman with Rebozo, the bright red of the woman’s glove and shocking white of her face have a strong forward trajectory in comparison to the more muted purple headdress and blue-gray walls. Similarly, the deep black behind the pale door creates the illusion that the door is swinging open towards the viewer. In 1952, Avery explained this dimensional 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.” (R. Hobbs, Milton Avery: The Late Paintings, New York, 2001, p. 51) Avery achieves balance in the present work through the juxtaposition of the strong vertical break in the composition with the smooth, curvilinear forms of the woman and table on either side.

Though he discounted the influence of Henri Matisse on his work, it seems undeniable that Avery was inspired by the French artist’s use of broad, interlocking shapes to create depth and his preference for flat color over blended shades. Matisse described an approach to painting which could equally serve to define Avery's own technique: “Fit your parts into one another and build up your figures as a carpenter does a house. Everything must be constructed—built up of parts that make a unit...” Matisse further stated, “The mechanics of construction is the establishment of the oppositions which create the equilibrium of the directions.” (as quoted in Milton Avery: The Late Paintings, pp. 50, 53) In Woman with Rebozo Avery has assembled his composition according to this method to create a visually striking composition that demonstrates the artist at the height of his abilities.

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