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


Milton Avery (1885-1965)
signed 'Milton Avery' (lower left)
oil on canvas
28 x 36 ¼ in. (71.1 x 92.1 cm.)
Painted circa 1930s.
Milton Avery Trust, New York.
[With]Alpha Galleries, Boston, Massachusetts.
Private collection, New York, acquired from the above.
(Probably) New York, Valentine Gallery, Milton Avery, April 11-30, 1938, no. 5.
(Probably) New York, Valentine Gallery, Four Paintings Each by Kane, Hartl, Avery, Eilshemius, February 17-March 8, 1939, no. 11.
Boston, Massachusetts, Alpha Gallery, Milton Avery and the Sea, November 4-29, 2006.


Painted circa 1930s, Milton Avery’s Bathers likely depicts Gloucester, Massachusetts. Sally Avery remembered of this decade, “What were the thirties: a time for struggle, a time for new friendships, new ideas, a time to search for a voice of one’s own. We were all poor, but not in spirit.” (as quoted in Milton Avery: The 1930’s Period, New York, 1988, p. 9).

In Bathers, Avery depicts three figures enjoying a restful day at the beach in his characteristic 1930s color palette. Indeed, Avery's ability to transform a composition by altering the palette and suggesting forms with rough outlines, became characteristic of his signature style. He believed "a painting should be flat and lie on one plane rather than evoke what [he] called photographic depth. He championed simplified, precisely delineated forms and flattened color masses when few were willing to listen. Perhaps [his] greatest legacy was his ability to abstract the mood of a place or situation with color. Although other Americans had concentrated on color in their paintings, [his] use of soft, lyrical color to evoke subtle emotion was unique in American art. His simplification of form and luminous color harmonies provided a model for future generations of American colorists." (B. Haskell, Milton Avery, New York, 1982, p. 56)

Throughout his prolific career, Avery continued to return to images of bathers and the sea. Indeed, Avery’s most recognizable subject is nature, and shorescapes such as Bathers  epitomize his commitment to his own artistic ideals. Somewhat of an outlier, Avery remained dedicated to treating nature as a subject throughout the decades, never giving in to fads or ‘isms.’ He viewed nature as a substance of surface alone, and out of it distilled everything extraneous. The critic, Clement Greenberg, appreciated Avery’s independent vision, and wrote in 1957: “The latest generation of abstract painters in New York has certain salutary lessons to learn from [Avery] that they cannot learn from any other artist on the scene.” (“Milton Avery,” Arts, December 1957, pp. 40-45) Avery was always simplifying, subtracting rather than adding. However, he practiced restraint before reaching pure abstraction, and in his compositions the essential idea is always preserved. In Bathers, Avery combines an engagement with purely aesthetic issues with a loyalty to the observed motif. Bridging the gap between realist and abstract art, the familiar subject of a beach scene is marked with a calming lyricism and imbued with a timelessness that transcends history. 

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