MILTON AVERY: AMERICAN COLOURIST

ROYAL ACADEMY OF ARTS, PICCADILLY, LONDON W1

15 July – 16 October 2022

Seated Girl with Dog, 1944; Beach Blankets, 1960; Self-Portrait, 1941

Blossoming, 1918; Husband and Wife, 1945; Little Fox River, 1942


REVIEW by KATHLEEN BONDAR

There’s usually something enlightening in the retrospective of an artist and in this case the 70 works of Milton Avery’s paintings from 1910 to the 1960s at the Royal Academy, unveils the artistic development of an abstract artist over time. Avery (1885 – 1965) didn’t start out as an artist associated with American Abstract Expressionism but nonetheless, his early works heralded this and eventually he became known as the forefather of the movement inspiring the likes of his countrymen Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman and Adolph Gottlieb.


Looking at Avery’s early works there are hints of Cezanne and Van Gogh because Avery, in fact, started out as an American Impressionist. Blossoming 1918 for example is a reminder of Van Gogh’s cypresses and olive trees whilst Setting Sun 1918 reaches further back, perhaps to a bucolic Turner influence. Both are a far cry from Avery’s iconic abstracts such as Boathouse by the Sea 1959 and Blue Sea, Red Sky 1958 which employ simple, bold strips of colour - red, yellow and blue.


Whilst Avery is known as a colourist, his colours are relatively subdued. Perhaps the paintings in the exhibition have faded over time? However, the RA curators have enhanced the idea of colour in the exhibition by painting the walls in tonal hues of ochre and light jade which really work with Avery’s paintings (and offer interior décor ideas for art collectors to boot).


It is the shapes that Avery uses that are more striking, particularly the figures which are like cut outs of bodies, mostly female, and suggest so much. The portrait of his daughter Seated Girl with Dog, 1944 and the painting of himself and his wife Husband and Wife, 1945 are full of suggestion in blank faces and clothes devoid of detail. But it is the female shapes - Two Figures on Beach, 1950 and Reclining Blonde, 1959 - that take centre stage in this wonderful exhibition.


Exhibition organised in collaboration with The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art.


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