Milton Avery nude leads Bonhams American Art sale in New York

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Milton Avery nude leads Bonhams American Art sale in New York
Milton Avery (1885-1965), Robed Nude. 68 1/8 x 58 1/8 in. (173 x 147.6 cm.) (Painted in 1960). Estimate: $1,000,000 - 1,500,000. Photo: Bonhams.

NEW YORK, NY.- Milton Avery (1885-1965) was an artist who preferred things stripped back to the essential elements. Hoping to reveal the ‘essence of nature’, in the late 1940s he began to distil the figurative elements of his works into their base forms, removing all details of the composition which he found unnecessary. Painted in 1960, during the most important period of his career, Milton Avery's Robed Nude encapsulates his mature style of chromatic abstraction on a monumental scale. The work leads Bonhams’ American Art sale on November, Thursday 18 in New York with an estimate of $1,000,000-1,500,000.

Head of Sale, Morgan Martin, commented: “Painted at a time when absolute abstraction was the pinnacle of creativity, Robed Nude personifies Avery's status as “a solitary figure working against the stream” – as Adolph Gottlieb eulogized. Avery has simplified the figure’s partially nude body to the simplest lines to expose volume and silhouette, forgoing any extemporaneous detail in favour of purity in form. He aims to capture the distilled essence of the figure, rather than the exact physical likeness of his subject. The result is a truly captivating work by an artist in their prime.”

Milton Avery (1885-1965) was born to a working-class family in upstate New York in 1885, before moving to Connecticut in 1898, where he intermittently enrolled at the Connecticut League of Art Students in Hartford. After working a series of blue-collar jobs in Connecticut, in 1925 Avery moved to New York City to be closer to his future wife and fellow artist, Sally Michel. The pair married in 1926 and Avery was able to commit himself to painting full-time, when Sally became the primary breadwinner of the family as a freelance illustrator. Milton began taking classes at the Arts Students League, entrenching himself within the Modernist scene, and exhibiting works at the Society of Independent Artists and various galleries. In these early New York years, Avery exhibited with Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb at the Opportunity Gallery on 56th street, quickly befriending the younger generation of artists, which also included Elaine de Kooning, John Graham, and Barnett Newman. Through the 1930s and early 40s, Avery's practice evolved to become increasingly simplified and comparisons to works by Henri Matisse earned Avery the nickname, "The American Fauve."

During his convalescence following a heart attack in 1949, Avery began experimenting with monotype printmaking. In the mid-1950s, when he was able to resume painting, he began incorporating elements of the printmaking process within his canvas works, applying layers of diluted paint to the surface to create subtly nuanced areas of color – a technique he used in Robed Nude.

Between 1957 to 1960 Avery would spend the summers in Provincetown, Massachusetts. It was there that he reconnected with Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb. In previous summers, Avery would paint watercolors and make sketches for studio works to be completed in the winter months; in 1957, he started painting large scale canvases “like the abstract boys” – as he told local gallerist Nathan Halper. As his canvases became larger, Avery reduced the number of compositional elements within his works and enhanced the level of abstraction. It was also in 1957, that Avery was visited by famed critic Clement Greenberg, who subsequently wrote a significant article about the artist for Arts Magazine. This article brought Avery immense attention, eventually garnering him a major traveling retrospective which opened at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1960.

Other highlights of the sale include:

• Robert Henri (1865-1929), Chow Choy. 32 x 26 in. (81.3 x 66 cm.) (Painted in 1914). Estimate: $300,000 - 500,000.

• Childe Hassam (1859-1935), Marine View, Isles of Shoals (Panel of a Decorative Mural for the Charles Erskine Scott Wood House, Portland, Oregon). 48 1/4 x 40 7/8 in. (122.6 x 103.8 cm.) (Painted circa 1904). Estimate: $200,000 - 300,000.

• Asher Brown Durand (1796-1886), Landscape. 18 1/8 x 30 1/8 in. (46 x 76.5 cm.) (Painted in 1867). Estimate: $150,000 - 250,000.

• Fairfield Porter (1907-1975), Roses. 17 5/8 x 14 1/8 in. (44.8 x 35.9 cm.) (Painted in 1967). Estimate: $100,000 - 150,000.

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