Lot 33
  • 33

Milton Avery 1885 - 1965

1,500,000 - 2,500,000 USD
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  • Milton Avery
  • Double Wave
  • signed Milton Avery and dated 1955 (lower left); also signed, titled, dated and inscribed "Double Wave"/by/Milton Avery/1955/36 x 58 on the reverse; also inscribed "Double Wave" by Milton Avery on the tacking edge 
  • oil on canvas
  • 35 3/4 by 58 inches
  • (90.8 by 147.3 cm)


Frederick Rudolph, Jr., Williamstown, Massachusetts (acquired from the artist)
Rosa Esman Gallery, New York
Andrew Crispo Gallery, New York
Arthur E. Smith, New York
The Andrew Crispo Collection (sold: Sotheby's, New York, December 3, 1997, lot 190, illustrated)
Acquired by the present owner at the above sale


Houston, Texas, Museum of Fine Arts, Milton Avery, June-July 1956, no. 12
Williamstown, Massachusetts, Williams College Museum of Art, Pictures from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Rudolph, Jr., October 1971, no. 3
New York, Andrew Crispo Gallery, The World of Milton Avery: An American Master, September-October 1980, no. 11
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute; Fort Worth, Texas, Fort Worth Art Museum; Buffalo, New York, Albright-Knox Art Gallery; Denver, Colorado, Denver Art Museum; Minneapolis, Minnesota, Walker Art Center, Milton Avery, September 1982-October 1983, no. 115
New York, Andrew Crispo Gallery, American and European Paintings of the 19th and 20th Centuries, July-September 1984, no. 9
New York, Canova and Rittenhouse Fine Art Gallery, A Selection of 20th Century Art: Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, November 1991-January 1992, no. 4


Hilton Kramer, Milton Avery: Paintings 1930-1960, New York, 1962, p. 28, no. 42, illustrated
Barbara Haskell, Milton Avery, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1982, illustrated fig. 115, p. 141
Andrew Crispo Gallery, American and European Paintings of the 19th and 20th Centuries, New York, 1982, no. 9, illustrated
Canova and Rittenhouse Fine Art Gallery, A Selection of 20th Century Art: Paintings, Drawings, Sculpture, New York, 1991, no. 4, illustrated 
Robert Hobbs, Ph.D., "Milton Avery: Double Wave," unpublished essay, January 22, 2013, a copy of which will accompany this lot

Catalogue Note

By 1955, when Milton Avery painted Double Wave, the artist had shifted his attention from the heavily saturated and vibrant planes of contrasting color that had previously earned him the title of the “American Fauve.” While he continued to employ color to indicate depth and space within his compositions as he had done in the 1930s and 40s, Avery now adopted a more refined and atmospheric palette. From December 1949 through the following mid-April, Avery and his wife, Sally, lived at the Research Art Colony in Maitland, Florida, where the artist began to work in monotype, a technical form of printmaking. Over the next two years he executed nearly 200 prints, and when he returned to oil painting, Avery revised both his manner of execution and his treatment of color. Rather than creating the space and forms of his compositions only with planes of contrasting and highly saturated color, he strove to achieve an overall sense of tonal harmony within his paintings that was previously absent. Fully representative of this mature aesthetic, Double Wave, writes Robert Hobbs, "is an extraordinary testament to the appearance of unleashed power, combined with subtle intensity, understated wit, and razor-sharp intelligence that Avery manages to subsume under an apparent nonchalance. While it is certainly one of his greatest paintings from his most important late period, it wears its erudition lightly, so as not to interrupt the remarkable ebullience that makes it such a winning example of his oeuvre" (Robert Hobbs, Ph.D., "Milton Avery: Double Wave," unpublished essay, January 22, 2013, p. 6).

In Double Wave the artist depicts a view of a rocky shoreline that he deconstructs into interlocking components of sea, sky and earth. The effect is such that Avery reinvents a traditional seascape into a complex arrangement of color and pattern, and blurs the boundary between representation and abstraction. While Avery had long been concerned with reducing landscape and figural elements into simplified forms, in the 1950s he pushed this tendency even further, omitting all components and details he found unnecessary. He explained this mounting impulse by saying, “I always take something out of my pictures. I strip the design to essentials; the facts do not interest me as much as the essence of nature” (Chris Ritter, “A Milton Avery Profile,” Art Digest, vol. 27, December 1, 1952, p. 28). Ultimately what Avery achieves is a canvas characterized by an unexpected luminosity that recalls the radiant night seascapes of the 19th century American tonalist Albert Pinkham Ryder (fig. 1). 

As he continued to distill the abstract qualities of representational forms more dramatically, Avery also revised his consideration and application of color. Inspired by his extensive work with monotype and the sponging of wet, heavily diluted paint onto plate glass that the process required, he began to layer pigment in washes on his canvases, creating large and chromatically nuanced areas of color. In Double Wave, Avery renders the rocks and sky by applying a subtle underpainting of brown and red pigment over which he layers washes of deep blue and black. These planes of color vary subtly in tone to suggest a degree of depth within the largely compressed picture plane, yet Avery’s technique creates a new, more diffuse quality that unites them compositionally and contributes to the overall harmony of the work. This treatment contrasts dynamically with the painterly manner with which he represents the waves, rendered expressively with horizontal strokes of white pigment then overlaid with dots and dashes of yellow, blue and pink, a practice also seen in his work of the late 1940s.

Double Wave foreshadows the ambient fields of color Avery would continue to intensify through the remainder of his career. While Avery was never interested in taking his paintings entirely beyond representation, his work had a distinct impact on Mark Rothko, who pushed Avery’s ideas about the expressive power of color fully into abstraction (fig. 2). "[Avery] was, without question, our greatest colorist," explains Hilton Kramer of the artist's importance. "Nothing that has occurred in the entire development of Color Field abstraction can be said to rival or surpass the invention and virtuosity he lavished upon the pictorial uses of color" ("Art View; Avery-'Our Greatest Colorist,'" New York Times, April 12, 1981).