Milton Avery - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Tuesday, November 15, 2022 | Phillips

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  • Painted in 1958, Hot Moon belongs to a universally renowned body of work that Milton Avery executed in the last decade of his life. A brilliant orange moon, hovering against an auburn sky, casts an iridescent reflection upon the expanse of magenta ocean below. Taking its place in the art historical genealogy of landscape and seascape painting, the composition was inspired by the deeply imaginative and productive summers that Avery spent in Provincetown with his wife, Sally, between 1957 and 1961. Rendered with short flecks that evoke pointillist techniques, but with the expressive power of the Abstract Expressionist painters who were dominating the art scene in the 1950s, the gestural treatment of this Cape Cod vista indexes a pivotal moment in the artist’s oeuvre that saw him turn to the expressive potential of color and form. Its formal singularity is emblematic of Avery’s extraordinary practice which was celebrated earlier this year by a major international traveling retrospective organized by the Royal Academy of Arts, London.


    Claude Monet, San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk, 1908-1912. National Museum Cardiff. Image: National Museums & Galleries of Wales / Bridgeman Images

    Hot Moon epitomizes the intuitive sensitivity to color and balance that characterized the most refined chapter of Avery’s corpus. Developed soon after Avery joined Paul Rosenberg at his esteemed gallery in New York, his mature aesthetic emerged in pared-down compositions with subtle chromatic variations that were encouraged by the dealer. This radical departure abandoned traditional perspective, graphic detailing, and other conventional modes of picture-making for flat planes of modulated hues that harmonized within a shallow pictorial field. “I like to seize the one sharp instant in nature, to imprison it by means of ordered shapes and space relationships,” the artist elucidated. “To this end I eliminate and simplify, leaving apparently nothing but color and pattern. I am not seeking pure abstraction; rather the purity and essence of the idea—expressed in its simplest form.” ¹ The evolution of Avery’s visual idiom located his mature style between Impressionism and Abstract Expressionism, positioning him as the unique bridge between two of modernism’s most defining movements.

    "I do not use linear perspective but achieve depth by color—the function of one color with another. I strip the design to the essentials; the facts do not interest me as much as the essence of nature."
    — Milton Avery

    In fact, during the late ‘50s summers in Provincetown which saw the creation of Hot Moon, Avery was simultaneously becoming reacquainted with two of his oldest artist-friends: Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb. The present work, with its vivid forms teetering on the brink of abstraction, no doubt betrays Avery’s influence on the New York School. Introducing the younger generation of artists to the “sublime” power of color, his ingenious ability to evoke atmosphere and depth through sonorous tonal contrasts can be traced throughout American abstraction. Rothko expounded in a commemorative text on Avery’s pioneering oeuvre: “There have been several others in our generation who have celebrated the world around them, but none with that inevitability where the poetry penetrated every pore of the canvas to the very last touch of the brush. For Avery was a great poet-inventor who had invented sonorities never seen nor heard before. From these we have learned much and will learn more for a long time to come.”² This relationship was reciprocal, and Sally Avery has theorized that her husband’s employment of larger canvases during this period—of which Hot Moon is one of the biggest—is a result of his rich artistic exchange with Rothko.


    [left] Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1954. Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven. Image: Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 1988 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    [right] Adolph Gottlieb, Cadmium Red above Black, 1959, Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas, Austin, Texas. Image: Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation/Licensed by Artists Rights Society

    "There is a lyric intensity in the landscape and seascape paintings of Avery’s last period that is unlike anything else in the art of our time. As in the late paintings of Cézanne and Matisse, many of these pictures are characterized by an inspired concision, as if the painter were attempting to summarize and quintessentialize everything that he knew and felt and wanted to see realized in painting."
    — Robert Hobbs

    Lyrical yet gestural manifestations of Avery’s innovative approach, Hot Moon and the artist’s other late seascapes have long been acclaimed by scholars and critics. When the present work was exhibited in Provincetown the year of its execution, TIME Magazine called it an “end-of-the-summer spurt [that] made a glowing show.”³ In 1965, the Washington Post proclaimed it a “masterpiece by any standard”¹¹; Hilton Kramer said it was a remarkable representation of his “late landscapes, every one of which is highly individual conception and which, taken together, are an accomplishment equaled by few painters in the last 20 years.”²² Despite the glowing praise of this body of work, Avery’s contributions at first seemed eclipsed by the height of Abstract Expressionism. Sixty years later, as the artist’s role is more accurately carved into modern art history, he is regarded as the singular American colorist who heralded a new era of painting. “We shall be a long time, I think, coming to terms with Avery’s achievement. Lately, he has been unjustly overshadowed by some of the American painters he himself so profoundly influenced,” Kramer lamented in 1970. “But such misconceptions pass, and when they do, we shall recognize this amazing painter as a true master.”³³


    ¹ Milton Avery, quoted in Robert Hobbs, Milton Avery: The Late Paintings, New York, 2001, p. 53.

    ² Mark Rothko, quoted in Adelyn Dohme Breeskin, Milton Avery, Washington, D.C., 1969, n.p.

    ³ “Art: Seaside Painting,” TIME Magazine, September 15, 1958, p. 72.

    ¹¹ Elisabeth Stevens, “Don't Miss Virginia Artists '65,” The Washington Post, May 23, 1965, p. G7.

    ²² Hilton Kramer, “Milton Avery: ‘A Confidence of Vision,’” The New York Times, January 4, 1970, p. D-25.

    ³³ Ibid

    • Provenance

      Dr. Paul Larivière, Montreal (acquired by 1960)
      Morton Bender, Washington, D. C. (acquired in the early 1980s)
      Private Collection, New York (acquired from the above in 2000)
      Private Collection, Dallas (acquired from the above in 2013)
      Private Collection, Virginia (acquired from the above in 2014)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Provincetown, HCE Gallery, Milton Avery, August 1–12, 1958
      Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal, Collection du Docteur Paul Larivière, November 12–December 31, 1960, no. 4, n.p.
      Washington, D.C., Phillips Collection; Macon, Mercer University; Bloomington, Indiana University; Fredericksburg, Mary Washington College, University of Virginia; East Lansing, Michigan State University; Cedar Rapids, Coe College; San Antonio, Witte Memorial Museum; Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center; Madison Art Center; Utica, Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, Milton Avery: Paintings, 1941-1963, May 17, 1965–December 11, 1966, no. 17, n.p.
      Washington, D.C., National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution; New York, The Brooklyn Museum; The Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, Milton Avery, December 12, 1969–May 31, 1970, no. 93, n.p. (illustrated)
      New York, Mnuchin Gallery, The Joy of Color, November 1–December 15, 2018, pp. 32, 85 (installation view illustrated, p. 33; detail illustrated, pp. 34-35)

    • Literature

      "Art: Seaside Painting," TIME Magazine, September 15, 1958, p. 72
      Evan H. Turner, "Un collectionneur présente sa collection," Vie des Arts, no. 20, Fall 1960, p. 38
      Hilton Kramer, Milton Avery: Paintings, 1930-1960, New York, 1962, pl. III, p. 25 (illustrated, p. 35)
      Edwin Mullins, "Developments in Style—XV: Milton Avery," London Magazine, vol. 4, no. 10, January 1, 1965, p. 36
      Elisabeth Stevens, "Don't Miss Virginia Artists '65," The Washington Post, May 23, 1965, p. G7
      Hilton Kramer, "Milton Avery: 'A Confidence of Vision,'" The New York Times, January 4, 1970, p. D-25
      Hilton Kramer, The Age of the Avant-Garde: An Art Chronicle of 1956-1972, New York, 1973, p. 318
      Patricia Pate Havlice, World Painting Index, vol. I, Metuchen, 1977, p. 122
      Bonnie Lee Grad, Milton Avery, Royal Oak, 1981, p. 18


Hot Moon

signed and dated "Milton Avery 1958" lower left; signed, titled and dated ""HOT MOON" by Milton Avery 1958" on the reverse
oil on canvas
54 x 66 1/8 in. (137.3 x 167.8 cm)
Painted in 1958.

Full Cataloguing

$1,800,000 - 2,500,000 

Sold for $2,208,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Global Managing Director and Specialist, Head of Evening Sale, New York
+1 212 940 1278

Carolyn Mayer
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+1 212 940 1206


20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 15 November 2022