Lot Sale Results

Milton Avery

Milton Avery

Milton Avery

Milton Avery

Milton Avery

Milton Avery
Post-War & Contemporary Art Live auction

Lot # 032

Milton Avery
1893 - 1965 American

Myself in Blue Beret
oil on paper
signed and dated 1951 and on verso signed, titled, dated and inscribed "oil on paper"
21 1/2 x 14 3/4 in  54.6 x 37.5cm

Milton Avery Trust
Donald Morris Gallery, Detroit
Grace Borgenicht Gallery, New York
Waddington & Gorce Inc., Montreal
Acquired from the above by the present Important Private Collection, Montreal, then California, 1987

Mark Rothko, "Commemorative Essay," delivered at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, January 7, 1965, reprinted in Adelyn D. Breeskin, Milton Avery, 1969, unpaginated
Pamela Gruninger, Milton Avery on Paper, Whitney Museum of American Art, Fairfield County, 1982, listed as a monotype, unpaginated

Whitney Museum of American Art, Fairfield County Branch, Milton Avery: Watercolours and Monotypes, September 9 - November 3, 1982

In 1965, the Abstract Expressionist Mark Rothko said of Milton Avery’s simple and compelling art, “What was Avery’s repertoire? His living room, Central Park, his wife Sally, his daughter March, the beaches and mountains where they summered; cows, fish heads, the flight of birds; his friends and whatever world strayed through his studio: a domestic, unheroic cast. But from these there have been fashioned great canvases, that far from the casual and transitory implications of the subjects, have always a gripping lyricism, and often achieve the permanence and monumentality of Egypt.” Rothko could have added that Avery also depicted himself, frequently in the nonchalant manner that we see here. A photograph by Arnold Newman taken just 10 years after this painting shows Avery sporting a similar beret in front of one of the painter’s signature landscapes. Myself in Blue Beret is typically unassuming, but we should not let its lack of fanfare deflect us from close looking.

The colour, composition and cultural iconography of this seemingly quick oil on paper stand out. Against a scumbled brown ground that also serves to convey a flesh tone across the face and neck, Avery has boldly laid down the outline of his head and neck in saturated red and his lips in a lighter red. Rubbed out, blurry areas suggest the ears and perhaps a moustache. Most prominent are the eyes and especially the nose, confidently outlined in dark brown. Most significant, however, are two immediately recognizable symbols of French culture. First, the striped sailor shirt, a tricot rayé – the official undershirt of the French Navy in the nineteenth century – which became the fashionable avant-garde garb by the early twentieth century. Henri Matisse, for example, wears one in his famous self-portrait from 1906 in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Copenhagen. Betokening “French” even more directly is, of course, Avery’s beret.

Why would Avery reiterate these allegiances in 1951? Matisse (1869 - 1954) was very much an “Old Master” by this time, even though the Fauvist self-portrait of 1906 that Avery seems to recall was from the most daring and pictorially innovative phase in his predecessor’s long career. With its characteristic economy of means and unmistakable references, Avery’s self-portrait helps us to reflect on the fact that he was often called “the American Matisse.” Usually this moniker is intended as a compliment - for example, when American Colour Field master Ellsworth Kelly used the analogy to praise Avery’s colour sensibility. But others have claimed that the comparison diminishes Avery’s uniqueness.

As we look at this self-portrait today, we look back more than half a century to a period when Avery was reasserting his fidelity to the modernist precepts of Matisse and like-minded avant-garde pioneers: the passion for colour, for the pleasures of the immediate and the everyday, for painting as painting. These precepts themselves were founded in Europe another 50 years in the past. Immediate and fresh though it is, then, Myself in Blue Beret is – as Rothko perceived – also a monument to pivotal eras in the history of European and American art.

We thank Mark Cheetham, Professor of Art History at the University of Toronto and author of The Rhetoric of Purity: Essentialist Theory and the Advent of Abstract Painting, for contributing the above essay.

This lot is accompanied by a photo-certificate of authenticity signed by Sally M. Avery, for the Milton Avery Trust.

Estimate: $60,000 ~ $80,000 CAD

Sold For: $67,250.00 CAD (including buyer's premium)

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