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Milton Avery

Born: 1885, Altmar, New York, United States of America
Died: 1965, New York, New York, United States of America

Adolescence
1947

Oil and graphite on canvas
Overall: 30 × 40 in. (76.2 × 101.6 cm)
Frame: 38 5/16 × 48 3/8 × 2 3/4 in. (97.3 × 122.9 × 7 cm)
Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1992.3
Signed: Lower left: Milton Avery 1947
Artist Name: []

Interpretation

In Adolescence, Milton Avery shows his daughter, March, seated and reading before a blind-covered window, perhaps in the small New York City apartment the artist shared with March and his wife, artist Sally (Michel) Avery (1902–2003). Seen as if slightly from above, March is absorbed in her book, her long legs propped on a cushion. Virtually featureless, she is an almost ghostly figure of pale yellows, from her hair and skin to her dress and book, set against the stronger yellows of the window and framed by the warm pink, red, and tawny brown of chair, walls, and floor. Only a dark green vase and a blue dish on the windowsill depart from the painting’s earth-toned color scheme. As if a metaphor for adolescence, March’s figure seems both to assert itself as the focus of the composition and to be defined by its surroundings. Avery emphasizes the awkwardness of this age by exaggerating the length of March’s legs, which causes her feet to be cut off by the picture edge; her shoulders are hunched as she slumps in the too-small armchair. Such tension is balanced, however, by the warmth of the color scheme and the domestic intimacy of the act of reading.

March, the Averys’ only child, was born in 1932 and soon became one of her father’s favorite subjects. Indeed, Avery’s retrospective exhibition at New York’s Durand-Ruel Galleries in 1947, entitled “My Daughter, March,” consisted entirely of images of his daughter, including the recently completed Adolescence. Easily identified by her thick straight bangs and long limbs, March appears in Avery’s paintings playing cards, talking on the phone, seated on the beach, or posed in contemplative inaction. She filled out a domestic world that defined both his life and his art. As also demonstrated in the Terra Foundation’s painting The Checker Players (TF 1992.13), the family and friends who filled the Averys’ small New York City apartment provided him with innumerable themes and compositions as well as emotional support. However, his many images of March hovering between child and woman particularly resonate with Avery’s characteristic mixture of lyricism and wry humor.

Adolescence is typical of Avery’s mature style, in which he reduced his landscape and interior figural scenes to subtle arrangements of softly brushed, flat areas of glowing color defined by subtly blurred edges. His flattening and simplification of form reveal Avery’s study of the work of European modernist artists, notably the Frenchman Henri Matisse (1869–1954), leader of a group of painters known as the Fauves, or wild beasts, for their use of intense, expressive color, bold strokes, and exaggerated representation of nature. In such works as Adolescence Avery experimented with color relationships, the tension between solids and voids, and other formal concerns. However, unlike his friends Mark Rothko (1903–1970) and Adolph Gottlieb (1903–1974), who pursued these themes into purely abstract, so-called color field painting, Avery never abandoned nature in his paintings. As this work demonstrates, he forged a symbiotic relationship between representational subject matter and such formal elements as shape and color. His abstraction of the scene formed by March reading at home becomes the means by which to characterize the peculiar combination of awkwardness and grace of his fifteen-year-old daughter and, by extension, of adolescence itself.

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Provenance

The artist
M. Knoedler & Company, New York, New York
The Ruth B. Haft Trust
Christie's New York, New York, December 6, 1991, lot 232
Berry-Hill Galleries, Inc., New York, New York
Terra Foundation for the Arts Collection, Chicago, Illinois, 1992

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Exhibition History

Collection Cameo, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, September 1993.

Figures and Forms: Selections from the Terra Foundation for the Arts, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, May 9–July 9, 2000.

L'Amérique et les modernes, 1900-1950 (American Moderns, 1900–1950), Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France (organizer). Venue: Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France, July 25–October 31, 2000. [exh. cat.]

On Process: Studio Themes, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, January 13–March 4, 2001.

Selections from the Permanent Collection: Two Centuries of American Art, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, March 10–July 1, 2001.

American Moderns, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, July 14–October 7, 2001.

Milton Avery: The Late Paintings, American Federation of Arts, New York, New York (organizer). Venue: Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, November 30, 2001–January 27, 2002. [exh. cat.]

Mid-Century Modern: Selections from the Terra Foundation for the Arts, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, April 20–July 7, 2002.

A Place on the Avenue: Terra Museum of American Art Celebrates 15 Years in Chicago, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, November 16, 2002-February 16, 2003.

American Classics from the Collection, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, May 14–June 15, 2003.

American Classics, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, December 13, 2003–February 8, 2004.

A Narrative of American Art, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, February 13–October 31, 2004.

America: Painting a Nation, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, Illinois, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia (organizers). Venue: Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, November 9, 2013–February 8, 2014. [exh. cat]

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Published References

Christie's New York, New York (Sale JAY-7380, December 6, 1991): lot 232. Text p. 222; ill. lot 232, p. 223 (color).

Southgate, M. Therese. "The Cover." The Journal of the American Medical Association 268:11 (September 16, 1992): 1376. Text p. 1376; ill. cover (color).

The Journal of the American Medical Association France 5:40 (February 1993): cover. Ill. cover (color).

The Journal of the American Medical Association Southeast Asia 9:4 (April 1993): cover. Ill. cover (color).

Adolescence, Milton Avery. Collection Cameo sheet, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, September 1993. Ill. (black & white).

Cartwright, Derrick R. and Paul J. Karlstrom. American Moderns, 1900–1950. (exh. cat., Musée d'Art Américain Giverny). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2000. Pl. 3, p. 30 (color).

Cartwright, Derrick R. and Paul J. Karlstrom. L'Amérique et les modernes, 1900–1950. (exh. cat., Musée d'Art Américain Giverny). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2000. Pl. 3, p. 30 (color).

Hobbs, Robert. Milton Avery: The Late Paintings. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. in association with The American Federation of Arts, 2001. Text p. 30; pl. 1, p. 12 (color).

Berman, Ann E. "Milton Avery." Art & Auction (June 2003): 106-107. Ill. p. 107 (color).

Southgate, M. Therese. The Art of JAMA III: Covers and Essays from the Journal of the American Medical Association. Chicago, Illinois: American Medical Association, 2011. Text pp. 114, 208; ill. opposite p. 114 (color).

America: Painting a Nation. (exh. cat., Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the National Museum of Korea, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Terra Foundation for American Art). Sydney, Australia: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2013. Text p. 224; ill. cat. no. 80, p. 225, (color).

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