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Discovering Milton Avery: Two Devoted Collectors, Louis Kaufman and Duncan Phillips
February 14 - May 16, 2004
Discovering Milton Avery: Two Devoted Collectors, Louis Kaufman and Duncan Phillips focuses on two of Milton Avery's most important patrons and their personal approaches to collecting. The exhibition will explore the remarkable commitment of Louis and Annette Kaufman and Duncan and Marjorie Phillips to the work of Milton Avery.
Louis Kaufman was one of America's finest violinists of the twentieth century. The most sought-after violin soloist in Hollywood, playing in some 500 films of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, Kaufman is said to have given American film music its voice. Annette Kaufman, a pianist, shared her husband's passion for music and art. (right: Milton Avery (1885-1965), Annette Kaufman in a Black Dress, 1944, oil on canvas board, Louis and Annette Kaufman Collection)
The Kaufmans' very personal relationship to Avery tells a unique story. In 1926, Mr. Kaufman was the first person ever to buy an oil painting from Avery for the modest sum of $25. On his first date with his future bride Annette, Louis Kaufman took her to meet the Averys and to see Milton's work. On their third date together, Annette accepted Louis's proposal of marriage. In order to commemorate the life they were going to share, Louis asked Avery to paint Annette's portrait in a "nice dress." Over the course of their friendship, Louis and Annette sat for several portraits by Avery.
The Kaufmans became the Averys' good friends. Kaufman took numerous artists and collectors to Avery's studio. While they rarely, if ever, purchased anything, Kaufman never failed to leave without a painting under his arm. In 1929 Kaufman brought Mark Rothko to Avery's studioa visit that would have a resounding impact on the personal and creative lives of both artists and, by extension, on mid- 20th century American art. The Averys and Kaufmans enjoyed a lifelong friendship: they visited each other, went out to restaurants, and visited art galleries together in New York City. In turn, Milton and Sally Avery made a point of attending many of Louis Kaufman's musical performances in New York.
The Phillips Collection was the first museum to acquire work by Avery. In contrast to the Kaufmans, however, the Phillips's relationship to Avery was one of mutual admiration from a distance. Uncomfortable in the limelight, the retiring Avery did not attend the opening of his first museum exhibition- an exhibition that Duncan Phillips organized in 1943. Sally Avery, in later years, expressed how "it meant a great deal to have a man of [Duncan Phillips's] stature [as] a supporter of my husband." After the death of her husband in 1965, Sally Avery became better acquainted with Duncan and Marjorie Phillips. Although Phillips's first purchase of a painting by Avery was made in 1929, he preferred later, more colorful works. The eight other works that Phillips purchased span Avery's career from 1932 to 1959. (right: Milton Avery (1885-1965), Chinese Checkers (March Avery and Vincenzo Spagna), c. 1941, oil on canvas, Louis and Annette Kaufman Collection)
Characteristically, Duncan Phillips responded more strongly to Avery's bolder compositions and the subtle but brilliant use of color in his still lifes, figure, and landscape paintings of the 1940s and 1950s. Compared with the Kaufmans' early still lifes that are quite detailed, depicting concrete objects in a traditional manner, the still lifes in the Phillips reflect Avery's mature style, with a view from above. Pine Cones (1940) and Gladiolus (1940) are monumental in concept and execution.
The Phillips Collection has a long-standing tradition of including sketchbooks, drawings, and prints in exhibitions of paintings to offer insight into the artist's process and an intimate view of the artist's relationship to his subject. Avery made copious sketches and drawings of his immediate surroundings: at home, in his studio, or of landscapes while vacationing. Later, in the privacy of his studio, he would transform his quickly penciled ideas into completed works depicting ordinary everyday objects or strong yet serene scenes from nature, often using saturated colors. Twelve prints and four sketchbooks from the National Gallery of Art, along with prints from the Kaufman collection, will be on view to further demonstrate Avery's unique style.
Milton Avery's work eludes simple categorization. Refusing to align himself with any particular group, Avery was truly an independent American artist. The inspiration of Matisse and Bonnard is evident in his work, yet Avery's work remained emphatically his own.
All of the works owned by the Kaufmans have been circulating in a show organized by Syracuse University. By adding the paintings and works on paper by Avery in The Phillips Collection to the Kaufman works, this exhibition celebrates the artist's earliest and most sustained patronage. Other carefully selected works from the National Gallery, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Milton and Sally Avery Trust complement the holdings of the Kaufman and Phillips collections. The Kaufmans and the Phillips's never met. Yet their patronage of Milton Avery enriched both collections, while contributing to the rise in stature of one of the 20th century's greatest American painters.
Editor's note: RLM readers may also enjoy these earlier articles abd essay:
Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Phillips Collection in Resource Library Magazine.
Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.
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