Oil on canvas
53 5/8 x 71 5/8 inches
Wichita Art Museum, Gift of Marian and S. O. Beren
Not Currently on Display
About the Artwork
This large painting by Milton Avery may appear at first to present nothing more that an abstract arrangement of simple shapes and flat colors. The title, however, informs us that Avery has actually depicted two blankets on an empty beach. Many of Avery’s late paintings share this stark, abstract quality, but all of them remain
Born in Altmar, New York, Avery moved to Connecticut with his family at a young age. He began his artistic training in 1905 at the Connecticut League of Art Students in Hartford, and later enrolled at the School of the Art Society in 1918. In 1925 Avery moved to New York to pursue a career as a painter. The influence of Henri Matisse led Avery to adopt a bold palette, simplify forms, and flatten space, while the work of John Twachtman informed the subtle tonal structure of Avery’s paintings. Though Avery remained apart from the artistic groups formed by his contemporaries, Avery himself had a significant influence on his younger friends Adolph Gottlieb and Mark Rothko, who would emerge in the 1940s as leading members of the Abstract Expressionist movement.
The flow of influence would reverse itself when the mature abstract canvases of Rothko encouraged Avery to paint outsize works. Avery executed the first of these large-format canvases in the summer of 1957 in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Beach Blankets was painted three years later during his last summer in Provincetown. The simplicity of the painting reveals Avery’s interest in capturing the essence of a subject through reduction and simplification. As Avery himself said, “I always take something out of my pictures. I strip the design to the essentials.”1
When Beach Blankets was exhibited at the Grace Borgenicht Gallery in 1963, its success was recognized by a contemporary critic, who wrote: “The growth and continuing distinction of Avery’s work lies in the artist’s tireless search for economy and simplicity of expression. A painting called Beach Blankets for example, boasts two isolated shapes, one burnt-orange, one yellow painted upon a flat pink background—that is all, and yet, all is succinctly stated or (understated) and all lives in perfect clarity and unity.”2
1. Milton Avery quoted in Una E. Johnson, Milton Avery: Prints and Drawings, 1930-1964 (New York: The Brooklyn Museum, n.d.), 10.
2. Unsigned, undated clipping, registrar’s files, Wichita Art Museum.