Black Sea, a painting by American artist Milton Avery, is a masterful example of Avery’s pared-down style that verges on abstraction. Created in 1959, the image shows an ebbing wave on Provincetown beach without detail but with immense impact. The painting’s black sea contrasts with white scalloped breaking waves and yellow sand, presented as flattened color masses.
Avery was known for his preference for simple forms and personal palette. He experimented with large canvases in the late 1950s leading to this most abstract work. In Sea Grasses and Blue Sea, both based on his memories of Provincetown, he created almost universal formulas defining beaches rather than directly depicting them.
Black Sea occupies a significant place within Avery’s oeuvre as one of his purest examples – clear, tranquil and irresistible. Despite its simplicity, it is not simplistic; rather it is the expression of an astute sense of design that has transformed zoning into contained precincts of color and texture. This masterpiece can be seen at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C., where visitors can more fully appreciate its power through close observation.