The Reader and the Listener was painted in 1945, two years after Milton Avery joined Paul Rosenberg's gallery in New York. Rosenberg had arrived from Paris in 1940 determined to represent American painters alongside his inventory of European artists which included Braque, Matisse and Picasso. Rosenberg's interest in Avery fueled a highly creative period for the artist, providing the monetary support and the critical artistic encouragement that would produce a major stylistic shift.
According to Barbara Haskell, "Avery's sudden arrival at his mature style was stimulated not only by Rosenberg but also by the work of Picasso, which Avery looked at with renewed attention from the beginning of his affiliation with Rosenberg. As with Matisse, earlier, it was not the French artist's imagery but his painting technique which impressed Avery. Picasso had been represented exclusively by Rosenberg in Paris. Among the 150-odd Picassos Rosenberg brought with him to New York were a number of canvases from the early thirties... The smooth surfaces of thinly modulated color divided by precise, but not hard, edges which Picasso has developed in this period particularly fascinated Avery, who had ample opportunity to study Picasso's rich palette and his application techniques in the private showroom Rosenberg maintained on the second floor of his gallery. Avery's subsequent work resembled these Picassos both in the modulation of color and in the simplification of figures into geometric yet biomorphic shapes" (Milton Avery, New York, New York, 1983, p.89-92).
In The Reader and the Listener Avery modernizes a familiar domestic scene of his wife Sally and daughter March reading together in their living room. The tilted perspective, unusual color juxtapositions and pared down forms flatten the pictorial plane. Avery's indebtedness to Matisse, the scratching of decorative patterns into saturated areas of color, further accentuates the canvas' two dimensional surface.
As his popularity grew, fellow artists working in New York became increasingly aware of the bold development in Avery's work from the 1940's. Ultimately Avery's impact on the evolution of American Post-War painters such as Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb has become a topic of interest for art historians of later 20th century art. During the mid forties, the American popular interest in abstraction was fueled by increasing coverage in magazines. In 1944, James Johnson Sweeney, art critic for the highly influential Partisan Review, featured Milton Avery, Jackson Pollock, Arshile Gorky, Matta and Morris Graves in an article for the very fashionable Harper's Bazaar magazine. The same year, Avery had his first one-person museum exhibition at the Phillips Memorial Gallery in Washington D.C.
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