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Girl Writing

Milton Avery ( 1941 )

On View

Collection item 0036
  • Location Sant Building, Gallery 223
  • Period Twentieth-Century
  • Materials Oil on canvas
  • Object Number 0036
  • Dimensions 48 x 31 3/4 in.; 121.92 x 80.645 cm
  • Credit Line Acquired 1943; © 2022 Milton Avery Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Girl Writing centers on the figure herself, elbow bent and resting on the table to support her forehead, her legs crossed in a pose of utmost concentration. Avery takes certain liberties, turning her simple dress into a bold white shape, her hair black, her face pink, and her socks red. Showing his natural inclination to take away rather than to add, he decorates her socks by incising them with stripes. On the table in the far corner sprigs of flowers in a bouquet of spindly lines and dabs of white offer a perfect counterpoint and depth to this flattened pictorial space. While Avery has eliminated table legs altogether, allowing the broad plane of the table to jut out from the wall, it does not float so much as support (with undeniable pictorial weight) the painting’s central subject. Using distortion and emphasis for the sake of pictorial expression, Avery deftly apportions the quantity and intensity of each color to balance and energize the composition as a whole.

The Phillips Collection was the first museum to purchase a painting by Avery (in 1929) and the first to present an exhibition of his work. But it was not until the 1940s—Avery’s most prolific decade—that Phillips began acquiring Avery’s work consistently, building a collection of eleven paintings and one work on paper.