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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. The two had a daughter, March Avery, in 1932. 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.
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. It was Rothko who wrote perhaps the most vivid summation of Avery's art, quoted below.
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. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1963.
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 the Artists Cemetery, in 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.
Style and influence
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.
French Fauvism and German Expressionism influenced the style of Avery's early work, and his paintings from the 1930s are similar to those of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. By the 1940s, Avery’s painting style had become more similar to Henri Matisse, and his later works use color with great subtlety.
About Avery's art
According to Mark Rothko, What was Avery's repertoire? His living room, Central park, his wife Sally, his daughter March, the beaches and mountains where they summered; cows, fish heads, the flight of birds; his friends and whatever world strayed through his studio: a domestic, unheroic cast. But from these there have been fashioned great canvases, that far from the casual and transitory implications of the subjects, have always a gripping lyricism, and often achieve the permanence and monumentality of Egypt.
Art critic Hilton Kramer said, He was, without question, our greatest colorist.... Among his European contemporaries, only Matisse—to whose art he owed much, of course—produced a greater achievement in this respect.
The Ackland Art Museum (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
The Addison Gallery of American Art (Andover, Massachusetts)
The Albright Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo, New York)
The Art and History Museums - Maitland (Maitland, FL)
The Art Gallery of the University of Rochester (New York)
The Binghamton University Art Museum (Binghamton, New York)
The Birmingham Museum of Art (Alabama)
The Block Museum of Art (Northwestern University, Illinois)
The Brooklyn Museum (New York City)
The Butler Institute of American Art (Ohio)
The Cape Ann Museum (Gloucester, Massachusetts)
The Cleveland Museum of Art
The Columbia Museum of Art (South Carolina)
The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (Bentonville, Arkansas)
The Davistown Museum (Liberty, Maine)
The Dayton Art Institute (Ohio)
The Georgia Museum of Art (Athens, Georgia)
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
The Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art (University of Florida, Gainesville)
The Harvard University Art Museums
The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (Washington, D.C.)
The Honolulu Museum of Art
The Hunter Museum of American Art (Tennessee)
The Maier Museum of Art (Randolph-Macon Woman's College, Virginia)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (Texas)
The Montana Museum of Art and Culture (Missoula, Montana)
The Montclair Art Museum (New Jersey)
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
The Museum of Modern Art (New York City)
The National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.)
The National Gallery of Australia (Canberra)
The National Portrait Gallery, (Washington, D.C.)
The Neuberger Museum of Art (Purchase, New York)
The New Britain Museum of American Art (Connecticut)
The New Jersey State Museum (Trenton)
The Oklahoma City Museum of Art (Oklahoma)
The Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Phillips Collection (Washington, D.C.)
The Portland Art Museum (Oregon)
The Reading Public Museum (Pennsylvania)
The San Antonio Art League Museum (Texas)
The San Diego Museum of Art (California)
The Santa Barbara Museum of Art (California)
The Sheldon Museum of Art (Lincoln, Nebraska)
The Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington, D.C.)
The Tate Gallery (London)
The University of Kentucky Art Museum (Lexington, Kentucky)
The Vero Beach Museum of Art (Florida)
The Wadsworth Atheneum (Hartford)
The Wake Forest University Fine Arts Gallery (Winston-Salem, North Carolina)
The Walker Art Center (Minnesota)
The Westmoreland Museum of American Art (Greensburg, Pennsylvania)
The Woodstock Artists Association and Museum (Woodstock, New York) are among the public collections holding work by Milton Avery.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, permanent collection, retrieved November 12, 2008
Avery, M. & Chernow, B., p. 9.
http://www.davistownmuseum.org/bioMiltonAvery.html, accessed online 7-11-2007
http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/findingaids/avermilt.htm "Biographical Note," Finding Aid to the Papers of Milton Avery, February 6, 2007, Smithsonian Archives of American Art
"Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter A" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 28 April 2011.
Greenberg, Clement (1957). "Milton Avery". Arts Magazine 32: 39–46.
Mark Rothko, Commemorative Essay delivered at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, January 7, 1965, reprinted in Adelyn D. Breeskin, Milton Avery, 1969.
Hilton Kramer, Avery-"Our Greatest Colorist" April 12, 1981, New York Times.
Breeskin, Adelyn. Milton Avery. New York: American Federation of Arts, 1960.
Breeskin, Adelyn. Milton Avery. Washington: The National Collection of Fine Arts, 1969.
Chernow, Bert. Milton Avery: a singular vision: [exhibition], Center for the Fine Arts, Miami. Miami, Florida: Trustees of the Center for the Fine Arts Association. 1987. OCLC 19128732
Grad, Bonnie Lee. Milton Avery Monotypes. Princeton University Library, 1977.
Grad, Bonnie Lee. Milton Avery. Foreword by Sally Michel Avery. Royal Oak, Michigan: Strathcona, 1981.
Haskell, Barbara. Milton Avery: The Metaphysics of Color, Westchester, NY: Neuberger Museum of Art, 1994.
Haskell, Barbara. Milton Avery. New York: Harper & Row Publishers in association with the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1982.
Hobbs, Robert (2007). Milton Avery. Hudson Hills Press. ISBN 0-933920-95-4, ISBN 978-0-933920-95-8
Hobbs, Robert (2001). Milton Avery: The late paintings. New York: Harry N. Abrams. ISBN 0-8109-4274-7
Johnson, Una E. Milton Avery Prints and Drawings 1930-1960. New York: Brooklyn Museum, 1966.
Kramer, Hilton. Milton Avery: Paintings 1930-1960. New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1962.
Kramer, Hilton. Avery: Our Greatest Colorist. New York Times, April 12, 1981.
ART USA NOW Ed. by Lee Nordness;Vol.1, (The Viking Press, Inc., 1963.) pp. 66–69
Wilkin, Karen, Milton Avery: Paintings of Canada. ISBN 0-88911-403-X
Archives of American Art
Oral history interview with Sally Avery, 1982 Feb. 19
Oral history interview with Sally Michel Avery, 1967 Nov. 3
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