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Pink Tablecloth

On view

Pink Tablecloth

Artist: Milton Avery (American, 1885 - 1965)

Date: 1944
Medium: Oil on canvas
Framed: 41 x 57in. (104.1 x 144.8cm)
Overall: 32 x 48in. (81.3 x 121.9cm)
Signed: Left side center: 'Milton / Avery / 1944'
Credit Line: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Roy R. Neuberger
Object number: 53.439
Label Text
Milton Avery painted in a simple, naive-looking style but he was, in fact, a sophisticated artist with an exquisite sense of compositional and color balance. He painted lyrically (even playfully) on the cusp between abstraction and representation.

In Pink Tablecloth, Avery begins with a simple arrangement of items from the kitchen. While he gives some suggestion of shadows around these objects, they really seem to float rather than rest on the table. Avery's use of color is equally free. The three largest areas describing wall, table, and floor are sensitively selected shades of orange, pink, and brown. Against these he plays with several shades of blue and green, as well as brown, black, and white. The total is an unexpectedly harmonious chorus.


Text Entries

The unequivocal richness and beauty of Pink Tablecloth lies in Milton Avery’s spectacular ability as a colorist. As one of the first and most accomplished American exponents of color and its structural implications, Avery paved the way for later generations of American color practitioners. Although today many artists use color as their primary structural and emotional focus, for an American of Avery’s era such an aesthetic was unique. His technique of applying thin washes of diluted paint to individual shapes within the composition resulted in chromatic harmonies of striking delicacy and invention. In Pink Tablecloth, for example, what appears as even-toned areas of pink, orange, and lavender are actually multiple layers of closely valued hues. Yet what insures the success of this soft lyricism is the painting’s rigorous pictorial structure. Avery has locked his simplified, spare forms into a composition so finely balanced that to change one shape or color saturation would destroy the equilibrium of the whole.

Avery developed his vanguard style during the 1920s and 1930s, when modernism was retrenching, and a concern with realism and subject matter was ascendant. His early paintings wedded the formal technique of European artists such as Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso to the genre subject matter popular with the Social Realists and American scene painters. By 1940 Avery’s palette had brightened and he had already dispensed with illusionistically modeled shapes in favor of simplified forms and flat colors.

The year 1944—the date of Pink Tablecloth—saw a further maturation in Avery’s style as he abandoned the anecdotal detailing and brushy paint application that had marked his earlier endeavors. In their place he introduced dense, more evenly modulated areas of flattened color contained within crisply delineated forms. These simplified, seemingly flat shapes created a remarkable parity between the abstract and recognizable components of his paintings. Although his pigments would eventually become more diluted, these characteristics heralded the arrival of his mature style. Typical of his work from 1944 is the shallow pictorial space, articulated by steep perspective and tilted planes, that characterizes Pink Tablecloth.(1)

Landscapes and figures comprised the majority of Avery’s subject matter; still lifes were less frequent. In all categories, however, he imbued his subjects with a mood of gentleness and composure. This celebration of harmony combines with Avery’s ineffable color harmonies and structural clarity to endow canvases such as Pink Tablecloth with a power to remain compelling and fresh with each successive viewing.



1. For an extended discussion of this period of Avery’s career see Barbara Haskell, Milton Avery, exhibition catalog (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1982), pp. 77-92.

Presumed copyright: the artist or the artist's representative/heir(s) / Licensing by ARS, New York, NY.