Milton Avery (March 7, 1885 – January 3, 1965) was an American modern painter. Although born in Altmar, New York, he moved to Connecticut in 1898 and later to New York City.
The son of a tanner, Avery began working at a local factory at the age of 16, and supported himself for decades with a succession of blue-collar jobs. The death of his brother-in-law in 1915 left Avery, as the sole remaining adult male in his household, responsible for the support of nine female relatives. His interest in art led him to attend classes at the Connecticut League of Art Students in Hartford
, and over a period of years he painted in obscurity while receiving a conservative art education. In 1917 he began working night jobs in order to paint in the daytime.
In 1924 he met Sally Michel, a young art student, and in 1926 they married; her income as an illustrator enabled him to devote himself more fully to painting. For several years in the late 1920s through the late 1930s Avery practiced painting and drawing at the Art Students League of New York. Roy Neuberger saw his work and thought he deserved recognition. Determined to get the world to know and respect Avery's work, Neuberger bought over 100 of his paintings, starting with Gaspé Landscape, and lent or donated them to museums all over the world. With the work of Milton Avery rotating through high-profile museums, he came to be a highly respected and successful painter.
Avery's work is seminal to American abstract painting—while his work is clearly representational, it focuses on color relations and is not concerned with creating the illusion of depth as most conventional Western painting since the Renaissance has. Avery was often thought of as an American Matisse, especially because of his colorful and innovative landscape paintings. His poetic, bold and creative use of drawing and color set him apart from more conventional painting of his era. Early in his career his work was considered too radical for being too abstract; when Abstract Expressionism became dominant his work was overlooked, as being too representational.
In the 1930s he was befriended by Adolph Gottlieb and Mark Rothko among many other artists living in New York City in the 1930s-40s.
The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. was the first museum to purchase one of Avery's paintings in 1929; that museum also gave him his first solo museum exhibition in 1944.
Avery was a man of few words. "Why talk when you can paint?" he often quipped to his wife. Their daughter, March Avery, is also a painter.
Milton Avery is buried in Artists Cemetery, Woodstock, Ulster County, New York. After his death in 1965, his widow, Sally Avery, donated the artist's personal papers to the Archives of American Art, a research center of the Smithsonian Institution. In 2007, the Archives optically scanned these papers and made them available to researchers as the Milton Avery Papers Online
The Ackland Art Museum
(University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
), the Addison Gallery of American Art (Andover, Massachusetts
), the Art Gallery of the University of Rochester
), the Birmingham Museum of Art
), the Block Museum of Art
), the Brooklyn Museum
(New York City
), the Butler Institute of American Art
), the Cape Ann Historical Museum (Gloucester, Massachusetts
), the Cleveland Museum of Art
, the Columbia Museum of Art
), the Davistown Museum (Liberty, Maine
), the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
, the Harvard University Art Museums
, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
), the Honolulu Academy of Arts
, the Hunter Museum of American Art
), the Maier Museum of Art (Randolph-Macon Woman's College, Virginia
), the Metropolitan Museum of Art
, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
), the Montana Museum of Art and Culture (Missoula, Montana
), the Montclair Art Museum
), the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
, the Museum of Modern Art
(New York City
), the National Gallery of Art
), the National Gallery of Australia
), the National Portrait Gallery
, (Washington, D.C.
), the Neuberger Museum of Art (Purchase, New York
), the New Britain Museum of American Art
), the Oklahoma City
Museum of Art (Oklahoma
), the Philadelphia Museum of Art
, The Phillips Collection
), the Portland Art Museum
), the Reading Public Museum
), the San Antonio
Art League Museum (Texas
), the San Diego Museum of Art
), the Santa Barbara Museum of Art
), the Sheldon Museum of Art
), the Smithsonian American Art Museum
), the Tate Gallery
), the University of Kentucky
Art Museum (Lexington, Kentucky
), the Vero Beach Museum of Art
), the Wake Forest University
Fine Arts Gallery (Winston-Salem, North Carolina
) the Walker Art Center
) and the Westmoreland Museum of American Art (Greensburg, Pennsylvania
) are among the public collections holding work by Milton Avery.
- Avery, Milton, & Chernow, Burt (1987). Milton Avery: a singular vision : [exhibition], Center for the Fine Arts, Miami. Miami, Fla: Trustees of the Center for the Fine Arts Association.
- Hobbs, Robert (2007). Milton Avery. Hudson Hills Press. ISBN-10: 10 0933920954, ISBN-13: 978-0933920958
- Hobbs, Robert (2001). Milton Avery: The late paintings. New York: Harry N. Abrams. ISBN-10: 0810942747
- Wilkin, Karen, Milton Avery: Paintings of Canada. ISBN 0-88911-403-X