Do paintings get a summer vacation? In the case of Milton Avery’s The Picnic, Vermont, 1940, the answer is “yes.” This outstanding painting is on loan to the Bennington Museum in Bennington, Vermont, until November for their exhibition entitled Milton Avery’s Vermont. The only Avery in the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Collection, it is in good company there with thirteen other paintings by the artist and many more works on paper from the National Gallery of Art among other prestigious lenders.
The Picnic, Vermont is typical of Avery’s simplified, post-Fauvist technique in which he uses simplified forms and flat colors, often enclosed in flowing outlines. This particular painting can also be seen as a visual quote of Édouard Manet’s iconic work, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (Luncheon on the Grass), 1862–1863.
In an essay for the exhibition catalog, Jamie Franklin, curator at the Bennington Museum, writes about The Picnic, Vermont and similar works from this period. They are quintessentially modern, depicting “the Arcadian Vermont landscape…and the leisure activities of a progressive middle class in the northeastern United States escaping the crush of city life and the realities of a world on the cusp of and then during World War II.”
The Picnic, Vermont shows Avery himself, along with his wife, Sally, and friends at what was likely a regular occurrence during their vacations in Vermont: a picnic gathering in the rustic landscape. While the subject is from his own everyday life, Avery’s diligent study of art history lends weight to the theory that it is also a purposeful reference to Manet’s iconic work of modern art.—Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery
*Milton Avery (American, 1893-1965). The Picnic, Vermont, 1940. Oil on canvas, 28 1/8 x 36 1/4 inches. Gift of Roy R. Neuberger, The Peabody College Collection, Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery.