Milton Avery

Milton Avery



Milton Avery was born in 1885 in Sand Bank (Altmar), New York. In 1898, he moved with his family to Wilson Station, Connecticut. Since 1901 and for the following 24 years, he held various positions such as engineer and employee at the Hartford Machine and Screw Company, the Underwood Manufacturing Company and the Travelers Insurance Companies in order to financially support himself and his family. In 1905, he enrolled in the Connecticut League of Art Students and attended drawing lessons under Charles Noel Flagg. In 1915, he exhibited for the first time at the Annex Gallery in Connecticut. In 1918, he attended classes at the School of the Art Society of Hartford and, in 1924, he became a member of the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts. In the same year, after completing an artist residency program in Gloucester, Massachusetts, he was offered free accommodation and a studio in the area in order to work during summertime. This is where he met the artist, illustrator and his future wife Sally Michel. In 1925, they moved to New York together where they became friends with Mark Rothko, Adolph Gottlieb and Barnett Newman. At the same time, he developed his own painting style, attempting to balance abstract references with realistic forms, as, for example, in Green Sea (1954). In addition, he utilized naïve and fauve techniques, as well as impressionist and American pop art elements. The main components of his creations were the abstract rendering of space, the flattened forms and the intense saturation of colors which occupied a large part of his canvases and, in many cases, demarcated them, as for example in Two Figures at Desk, 1944. His themes included friend’s faces, family moments, still life, landscapes, animals, buildings, areas where he spent his summers and scenes of daily life in the USA. The selection of these topics focused on satisfying the need of the American society to view positive and intimate images amidst the economic crisis, war and multiple political and social changes. His idiom and work remained relatively unknown until 1929, as it could not be related with any artistic movement of the time. Then he received the Atheneum Prize for the painting Brooklyn Bridge at the exhibition of the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts, while the Philips Memorial Gallery in Washington acquired a piece of his for the first time. In 1930, he received the Mr. & Mrs. Frank G. Logan prize for the painting White Horse at an exhibition of the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1933 and 1936, he participated in the first Biennale at the Whitney Museum of American Art and, in 1935, he held his first solo exhibition at the Valentine Gallery in New York with which he signed a contract. Although he participated in a large number of exhibitions in the 1930s, he was established as a painter after his collaboration with the Paul Rosenberg & Co. Gallery in 1943 in New York. He exhibited his works at the Philips Memorial Gallery the following year. In 1949, he had a heart attack and remained in New York in order to recover. Two years later, he started collaborating with the Grace Borgenicht Gallery in New York and, in 1952, he traveled to Europe. In the mid-1950s, he began working on simpler compositions, with larger canvases, applying thin layers of unusual color combinations, with representative examples the paintings Sheep, 1952, Waterfall, 1954, Tangerine Moon, 1959 and Wine Dark Sea, 1959. In December 1957, critic Clement Greenberg wrote an article dedicated to Milton Avery’s work for Arts Magazine. In 1960, he had a second heart attack resulting in the gradual collapse of his health until his death on January 3, 1965 in New York. Even though throughout his artistic career he did not deal with the burning political and social issues of the time, through his work he was able to bring out timeless simple human values and virtues. His work can be found in major collections, including those at the National Gallery in Washington D.C., Tate Modern in London, the MoMA in New York, and the LACMA in Los Angeles. Retrospective exhibitions of his have been held in galleries and museums, including the Durand – Ruel Galleries (1947) in New York, the Baltimore Museum of Arts (1952), the Whitney Museum of American Art (1960, 1982) in New York, the Brooklyn Museum of Art (1970), the Milwaukee Art Museum (2001 – 2002) in Wisconsin and the Norton Museum of Art (2001 – 2002) in Florida. A notable monograph of his is the one by Hilton Kramer, entitled Milton Avery: 1930-1960 (1962) from Thomas Yoseloff publications and the ones by Robert Hobbs entitled Milton Avery (1990) from Hudson Hills publications and Milton Avery: The Late Paintings (2001) from Harry N. Abrams Inc. publications in collaboration with the American Federation of Arts.