Milton Avery

Milton Avery
Milton Avery

Green Sea, 1958, oil on canvas, University of Kentucky Art Museum (Lexington, Kentucky)
Born March 7, 1885(1885-03-07)
Altmar, New York
Died January 3, 1965(1965-01-03) (aged 79)
Nationality American
Field Modern art, Painting
Influenced by Henri Matisse
Influenced Mark Rothko, Adolph Gottlieb

Milton Avery (March 7, 1885 [1] – January 3, 1965) was an American modern painter. 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.[2] 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.[2] 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.[3]

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.[4] He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1963.[5]

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.

Public collections


  1. ^ Metropolitan Museum of Art, permanent collection, retrieved November 12, 2008
  2. ^ a b Avery, M. & Chernow, B., p. 9.
  3. ^, accessed online 7-11-2007
  4. ^ "Biographical Note," Finding Aid to the Papers of Milton Avery, February 6, 2007, Smithsonian Archives of American Art
  5. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter A". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 28 April 2011. 


  • 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. OCLC 19128732
  • Hobbs, Robert (2007). Milton Avery. Hudson Hills Press. ISBN 10 0933920954, ISBN 978-0933920958
  • Hobbs, Robert (2001). Milton Avery: The late paintings. New York: Harry N. Abrams. ISBN 0810942747
  • Wilkin, Karen, Milton Avery: Paintings of Canada. ISBN 0-88911-403-X
  • ART USA NOW Ed. by Lee Nordness;Vol.1, (The Viking Press, Inc., 1963.) pp. 66–69
  • 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.

Archives of American Art

External links

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