This still life was inspired by pine cones that the Avery had brought home as mementos of their 1940 summer spent in Rawsonville, Vermont. The 1940s saw Avery crystallizing his visual experience into increasingly commanding works that began to secure his position as a major American modernist. His compositions became stronger, his distortions and deviation from traditional perspective more radical, and his paring down of his subject to its essence, more daring. During this period, Avery was also experimenting with perspective and scale and using a wide range of colors and textures.
The table and wood flooring in Pine Cones are depicted in dramatic, distorted perspective, which pushes them toward the picture plane and produces an airless, claustrophobic effect. The horizontal orientation and weighting to the right of the oversized bowl that holds the pine cones is stabilized by the placement of the table, pulling the composition to the left. The naturalistic, three-dimensional treatment of the bowl and cones contrasts significantly with the flatness of the table, wall, and floor; as a result, the background becomes a foil to the central still-life element, which appears to be floating in its own space.
Avery added visual interest to the painting's surface by incising the outlines of the floorboards and using thick strokes of brown, rust, and green paint to highlight the ridges of the pine cones. He orchestrated the colors within a narrow range of autumnal hues, revealing his command of subtle color relationships.
Duncan Phillips purchased Pine Cones in 1943 on the occasion of Avery’s first museum show at the museum. To Phillips, such paintings reflected the artist's increased confidence and exceptional talent, as well as his mastery of composition and color. Phillips came to recognize in Avery not only an independent artistic voice, but also qualities similar to those that attracted him to the work of Pierre Bonnard, who, like Avery was a great colorist. Indeed, Pine Cones foreshadows the complex, vibrant paintings of Avery's mature career.