Lot 21
  • 21

Milton Avery

2,000,000 - 3,000,000 USD
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  • Milton Avery
  • The Seamstress
  • signed Milton Avery and dated 1944 (center left)
  • oil on canvas
  • 48 by 32 inches
  • (121.9 by 81.3 cm)


The artist
Sally Avery (the artist's wife)
Private collection, Louisville, Kentucky
Richard York Gallery, New York
The Gulf States Paper Corporation, Tuscaloosa, Alabama (sold: Christie's, New York, May 21, 1998, lot 209)
Acquired by the present owner at the above sale


New York, Durand-Ruel Galleries, Paintings by Milton Avery, January-February 1945, no. 10
London, England, Thomas Gibson Fine Art, Milton Avery: Figures from the Forties, 1981, p. 26, illustrated p. 27
South Bend, Indiana, The South Bend Art Center, American Masterpieces from the Warner Collection, December 1989-February 1990
Montgomery, Alabama, The Montgomery Museum of Art, Impressions of America from The Warner Collection, June-July 1991
Memphis, Tennessee, Impressions of America from the Warner Collection, November 1992-January 1993


Burt Chernow and Sally Avery, The Drawings of Milton Avery, New York, 1984, n.p.
Emily Genauer, "This Week in Art: Avery Takes Over 57th St.," New York World-Telegram, New York, January 13, 1945, n.p.
Aline B. Louchheim, "Perspective on Milton Avery," Art News, New York, January 15, 1945, n.p.


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Catalogue Note

Painted in 1944, The Seamstress illustrates a pivotal phase in Milton Avery’s career. Abandoning the more painterly style and subdued palette that characterized his earlier work, Avery now began to embrace color as the primary means of expression of emotion, structure, and form. The artist’s wife, Sally, describes the scene depicted in The Seamstress as a depiction of “our charming friend Suzanne. She had come to sew a dress for me while I worked at my drawing table. Her sharp features and striking headdress set the tone for this symphony of high-keyed contrasting colours and angular rhythms” (as quoted in Thomas Gibson Fine Art, Milton Avery: Figures from the Forties, 1981, p. 26). Avery’s depiction of a woman at work finds parallels with Edouard Vuillard’s Two Seamstresses in the Workroom (Fig. 1), in which the artist similarly utilizes heighted color in an abstracted composition to present a modern interpretation of a traditional subject. This dramatic change in Avery’s style is largely attributed to the artist’s new professional affiliation with the French art dealer, Paul Rosenberg, which began when he joined Rosenberg’s New York gallery in 1942. Rosenberg facilitated Avery’s creative experimentation by introducing the artist to the work of the modern European painters he also represented, including Georges Braque, Henri Matisse
and Pablo Picasso, the last of whom arguably influenced Avery most directly. He studied the Spanish master deeply during this time, observing how Picasso simplified color and form and incorporated this reductive style into his own compositions. Rosenberg also preferred structural clarity through the representations of “clearly delineated planes of dense, homogenous color” (Barbara Haskell, Milton Avery, 1982, p. 89). In The Seamstress, Avery renders his protagonist primarily as a pattern of contiguous planes with a precise delineation of color, echoing many of the compositions Picasso produced during the 1930s such as Seated Bather (Fig. 2).

Under Rosenberg, Avery was also guaranteed sales of at least 25 paintings twice each year and was thus freed from financial uncertainty for the first time. This newfound independence allowed the artist to embrace the unique and modernist style that is exemplified in The Seamstress. It was during this time that, in the words of Sally, “his spirits soared and his paintings blossomed. His color became clearer, sharper, and higher keyed, his shapes more stark and hard-edged. This combined to produce some of the most enchanting work of his career. There is a special radiance in the work of this period” (Ibid., p. 9). 

1944, the year Avery painted The Seamstress, was one of significant creative stimulus and the artist produced the greatest number of works than in any other year of his career. From this pivotal point onwards, Avery would continue to experiment with the dynamic power and structural function of color through a further reduction of form, space, and tone. This evolution presaged the work of significant Post-War artists such as Adolph Gottlieb and Mark Rothko, who would push Avery’s modernism to the extent of chromatic abstraction. The strong influence of Avery's work can be seen in Mark Rothko’s No. 13 (White, Red on Yellow) from 1958 (Fig. 3), in which the artist extends Avery’s application of bold, pure color completely into the non-objective realm.