Across the gallery sits a faceless couple. Flattened to their most idiomatic outlines, they converse in shallow planes of imaginative color—Crimson Coral, Stuart Gold, Cornflower Blue. The canvas in question evades a set style. While its brushstrokes reflect a refined European syntax, the work simultaneously exudes an uncanny American domesticity. The precise tradition his works embody remains elusive. Here is Husband and Wife, a 1945 work by Milton Avery (1885–1965), one of some 70 works of his on display in a touring exhibition now on view at Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum (through June 5) and later at London’s Royal Academy of Arts (July 15–October 16).
One of the preeminent and most prolific first-generation American Modernists, Milton Avery produced a lyrical repertoire of figurative portraits and New England landscapes perhaps not as immediately recognizable as works from contemporaries Edward Hopper or Mark Rothko, but his influence on the trajectory of art is just as significant. “There’s a restlessness with Milton Avery,” says Erin Monroe, Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture at The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. “He’s never content to stay in one stylistic moment.”
Restlessness, pure New England moxie, is precisely what is on display in the show in Hartford. Marking a significant homecoming for an artist who got his start in the city 100 years ago, the retrospective spans the full extent of Avery’s career, from the early 1910s to the 1960s, and is perhaps the most realized testament to understanding the artist in the twenty-first century. “It’s a choice selection of his best work,” says Monroe, “breaking down Milton Avery into different themes and moments in ways in which one can really appreciate the artist as a major contributor.”
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WRITTEN BY MICHAEL CICETTI
This story appeared in the Summer 2022 issue of MILIEU.