A Really Bad Painting: Two Figures by Milton Avery

A few years ago when I visited the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, I saw Matisse’s Tea in the Garden, which I consider a really bad painting, and I called it such in my review.

On Wednesday at the Milwaukee Museum of Art, I had a similar experience.

Here is Milton Avery’s Two Figures (1963). There are a number of Avery paintings in that museum, but this one struck me as the worst. It’s a large painting and I consider it spectacularly bad.

Look at the drawing. The pencil outlines are clearly visible. They are crude and the artist made no attempt to make them realistic or abstract. They are just sloppy and sketchy. Then he quickly colored in the main fields. He used six colors, no mixing, and no effort to cover evenly even to make it at least look clean.

I swear, I could do this painting in 20 minutes and it would look more pleasing than this does.

I have a lot of paintings that are much better than this that are stacked in my garage, never to be seen – sometimes to be painted over to at least reuse the canvas. But Milton Avery’s Two Figures in prominently displayed in the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Somebody explain that to me!

Painting: Tea in the Garden – by Matisse

Source WikiArt [click to enlarge]
Last week I visited the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and saw the original Tea in the Garden by Henri Matisse. I love Matisse, and most of his contemporaries including van Gogh (my favorite), Monet, Manet, Gaugin, Cezanne, Seurat – and many others of the period. When I go to an art museum, I usually seek out those artists first, before I wonder off into rooms with the older European paintings.

Often it strikes me how “unfinished” the paintings of the masters are. I saw many versions of van Gogh’s irises (Google it and you will see) where there is bare canvas between brushstrokes indicating leaves.

Recently I visited my friend (PG) in Germany, who loves the expressionists, and is a hobby painter himself, and we talked about how crappy some of the paintings of the masters are. Sections of the paintings obviously don’t fit together and were completed at different times with different palettes. The drawing is often atrocious. The detail shoddy. The finish – oh, the finish!

In Tea in the Garden, all of this occurs. This is a very large painting (140 x 211 cm). The woman sitting in the center is a model of Matisse. The woman on the right is his daughter. The drawing of both is atrocious. These figures would not make it in any live drawing class in a community college today. The form of the dog is miserable. The background, to the left of the tree, is divided into three distinguished sections, almost done separately. It looks like they were not completed when he thought the rest of the painting was finished and he quickly slapped down some paint to “finish” them. They don’t even work with each other. The path on the left does not look like a path. It’s way too dark and defined in the back to look real. The chairs are poorly defined and sloppy. The back legs of the right chair are too light in the shadow and therefore not “real.” I could go on and on.

If this were my painting, this would be my very first draft. Assuming the paint was still wet, I’d now take a rag and wipe it all into the canvas, producing the overall “feeling” of the painting, and then I’d lay detail over the top of it. I would put at least another 100 hours of work into it before I would call it finished.

I am a dilettante. Matisse is a master. I have never sold a painting – haven’t even tried. Matisse’s work is in the best museums in the world. Perhaps, after you have a name, your drafts, your crappy work, is also famous?

I love Matisse. He inspires me. But standing in front of Tea in the Garden, I can’t but say that it’s a crappy, unfinished painting. Not even pleasant to look at.

Please, my artist readers, talk me down!