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Milton Avery. Sea Grasses and Blue Sea. 1958

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Milton Avery (American, 1885–1965)

Sea Grasses and Blue Sea

Oil on canvas
60 1/8" x 6' 3/8" (152.7 x 183.7 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of friends of the artist
MoMA Number:
© 2015 Milton Avery Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 227

Avery painted scenes of nature throughout his career, but he preferred simple forms to realistic details, and his palette is distinctively personal. The results come close to abstraction. In Sea Grasses and Blue Sea (based on Avery's memories of Provincetown, Massachusetts), the sky is a straight and narrow blue band at the painting's upper rim. The rest of the canvas is divided into two trapezoids of almost equal size and shape. The lower of these, the sea grass, is pale and lightly streaked, and echoes the tonality of the sky; above it is a wedge of a predominantly darker, saturated blue, with patches both of a lighter blue and, more sharply, of deep black. Magically, the overall effect is of waves flecked with white foam.

That black is paradoxical: as Matisse remarked of the black in one of his own paintings, it is used as "a color of light and not as a color of darkness." In various ways, in fact, Avery is closer to Henri Matisse than to the styles that prevailed in America during his lifetime-in his love of clarified form and flat color, for example, and in the sense of rich serenity that permeates his art.

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