“The Averys could seldom afford movies; instead, Milton would read aloud at night. When reading to himself, he selected mystery stories, but reading out loud involved the beauty of language, and over the years their reading list included Melville, Proust, Thoreau, Wallace Stevens, and T.S. Eliot—ambitious choices for a man with a relatively limited academic background.”
Excuse the condescension of that final phrase. Enjoyment of such writers has nothing to do with a college degree. Consider Avery’s lovely Poetry Reading from 1957, Summer Reader (1950) and Reclining Reader (1950). His paintings are notably civilized and celebrative, never “subversive.” Hilton Kramer said of Avery, “There is scarcely a more refined aesthetic intelligence in American art than his…” (Milton Avery: Paintings 1930-1960, 1962). Alfred J. Appel would have placed him on “the top, shortest Yes Celebratory Shelf,” with Stevens, Marianne Moore and the painter whose sensibility most resembles Avery’s, Henri Matisse. Look at Avery’s Blue Trees and Matisse’s The Blue Window.
About Avery’s connections with Wallace Stevens, Robert Hobbs writes in Milton Avery: The Late Paintings (2001):
“Both had lived for extended periods in or near Hartford, Connecticut; both were committed to the ongoing project of modern art; both had benefitted from substantial and lasting connections with New York City; and incidentally, but not inconsequentially, both had worked for insurance companies, so that practicalities found a place in their poetics.”
“…the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is."
Avery was born on this date in 1885, in Altmar, N.Y., fifty miles north of Syracuse, and died Jan. 3, 1965. In a tribute to his friend read at Avery’s funeral four days later, Mark Rothko said:
“Avery is first a great poet. His is the poetry of sheer loveliness, of sheer beauty. Thanks to him this kind of poetry has been able to survive in our time.”