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 Milton Clark Avery  (1885 - 1965)

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Lived/Active: New York/Connecticut      Known for: abstract sea-landscape and nude figure painting

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from Auction House Records.
MARCH AND SALLY OUTDOORS
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Known as a colorist focused on serene mood, harmony, and rounded shapes, Milton Avery was primarily a self-taught painter whose work combining abstraction and realism suggests dialogue between line, shape, muted color, and subdued emotions.  Most of his subjects were either marine scenes or figure studies.

Although never associated with a particular movement, Avery was a key modernist who influenced succeeding generations of artists including Color Field painters Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb.

Born in Altmar, New York, Avery studied art in Hartford at the Connecticut League of Art Students before settling in New York City in 1925.

1944 was a watershed year for Avery, largely because of a new gallery association with Paul Rosenberg in New York.  Rosenberg had fled to New York from Europe with both a strong interest and inventory of avant-garde paintings, which he wanted to enhance.  In addition to this collection, he agreed to buy twenty-five of Avery's paintings twice a year, which meant that Avery did not have to worry about money and could focus on being creative.

With this new freedom, he became much more prolific, and his style changed from a brushy, painterly application and graphic detailing to denser, more even areas of flattened color within delineated forms.

As his career continued, he became more and more focused on concentrated color within simple, broadly contoured shapes.  He perfected the technique of applying thin washes of paint to create veiled fields of color.

In January, 1949, he had an heart attack that left him physically weak for the remainder of his life, and he died in 1965, having suffered a second heart attack three years earlier.

Sources include:
Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Art
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art

Note submitted February 2005 from Matthew Weseley whose source is Barbara Haskell's catalogue to the 1982 Whitney Museum retrospective of Avery's works.

Milton Avery was born in 1885, not 1893. He lied about his age, since he was so much older than his wife, Sally, so it came as a surprise to her when Barbara Haskell, who curated the retrospective at The Whitney, told her that her late husband was actually born in 1885.  Many publications still list his birthdate as 1893, though it's incorrect.


Biography from Hollis Taggart Galleries (Artists, A-D):

Born in Sand Bank (now Altmar), Connecticut, March 7, 1885, Milton Clark Avery began his artistic during his teenage years and painted almost daily until two years before his death in 1965.  He left school at the age of sixteen to work at the Hartford Machine and Screw Company and the Underwood Manufacturing Company in Connecticut assembling machine parts to support his family.  Sometime after his father died in 1905, Avery began taking art classes at the Connecticut League of Art Students in Hartford and studied there on a part-time basis until 1918.  Between 1917 and 1925, he was employed as a file clerk for the Travelers Insurance Company and as a construction worker.  He continued his studies in art at the School of the Art Society of Hartford and eventually became a member of the Connecticut Academy of the Fine Arts.  Soon after meeting Sally Michel on a summer trip to Gloucester, Massachusetts, Avery followed her to New York City and the couple married in 1926.

The Averys quickly became part of the lively and exciting art scene in Manhattan.  Milton enrolled in classes at the Art Students League and frequented sketch classes there until 1938.  He first exhibited at the Wadsworth Atheneum’s Fifth Annual Exhibition of Oil Paintings and Sculpture in 1915, but soon after his arrival in New York he began showing regularly.  His work was included in the Society of Independent Artists exhibition in 1927 and the following year fellow artist Bernard Karifol selected two of his paintings for a group show at the Opportunity Gallery in New York, which included works by Mark Rothko, with whom Avery became especially close and who introduced him to Barnett Newman and Adolph Gottlieb. He also befriended Marsden Hartley. Beginning in 1932, the Averys began summering in Gloucester with Rothko, Gottlieb, and Newman, and in the same year, his only child, daughter March, was born.

From the late 1920s to the 1940s, Avery’s reputation grew at a rapid pace.  He won numerous awards and as his works began to be acquired by collectors such as Duncan Phillips and Albert Barnes.  From 1935 to 1943, Avery was represented by Valentine Gallery and from 1943 to 1950 by Paul Rosenfeld & Company Gallery. He had his first solo museum exhibition at the Phillips Memorial Gallery in Washington, D.C. in 1944 and his first retrospective showing at the Durand-Ruel Galleries in 1947.  In the late 1940s, Avery began to experiment with dry point and monotype prints.  He also ended his affiliation with Rosenberg, who sold his inventory of Avery paintings to Roy Neuberger.  In the late 1940s, Avery suffered his first major heart attack, an illness from which he never completely recovered.

The period from 1950 until 1963 was a time of transitions and change for Avery.  In 1951, he joined the newly established Grace Borgenicht Gallery in New York.  The following year, he traveled to Europe for the first time and visited London, Paris, and the French Rivera. He spent the summer months during the 1950s at various art colonies including The MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, the Yaddo Art Colony near Saratoga Springs, New York, and Provincetown, Massachusetts.  He continued to paint, despite failing health, but suffered a second heart attack in 1960, which truly incapacitated him.  He was honored with two retrospective exhibitions during this time, one at The Baltimore Museum of Art in 1952 and another at The Whitney Museum of American Art in 1960.  In 1963, Milton Avery painted his last work and died two years later, January 3, 1965 in New York City.

Avery’s style evolved over time from Impressionism to modernism and by the 1930s he had developed his signature style of combining abstraction with representational forms to create a unified whole.  In his mature paintings, he flattened form and applied intense colors in large unbroken areas. This unique style, often depicting scenes from the natural world and images of the artist’s family, has become part of the canon of modernism.

© Copyright 2007 Hollis Taggart Galleries


Biography from Spanierman Gallery:
Regarded as one of America's most important artists of the twentieth century, Milton Avery was renowned for his lyrical, Matisse-inspired colorism and his poetic approach to nature.  A vital force in the development of Modernism in America, Avery's work exerted a major influence on the Abstract Expressionist and Color-Field painters of the 1950s and 1960s.

Born in Sand Bank (later Altmar), New York, in 1893, Avery moved with his family to Wilson Station, Connecticut, in 1898.  Around 1905, he enrolled in a lettering class at the Connecticut League of Art Students in Hartford.  However, after the course was cancelled, he transferred to a life-drawing class taught by Charles Noel Flagg.  In the years ahead, Avery spent his spare time studying European Post-Impressionism, especially the work of the Fauves and the Expressionists.

By 1918, Avery was attending classes at the School of the Art Society of Hartford, where he produced award-winning work in the portrait and life-drawing classes.  In 1924, he became a member of the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts.  One year later he moved to New York City, studying briefly at the Art Students' League.  He made his debut in a group exhibition organized by the Society of Independent Artists in 1927 and had his first solo exhibition at the Opportunity Gallery in 1928.  He also continued his formal studies, taking occasional classes at the League until 1938.

Avery's work of the 1930s suggests the influence of such German Expressionist painters as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.  However, during the 1940's, he developed a style characterized by simplified and delicately-modulated color planes, inspired in particular by the art of the Fauvist painter, Henri Matisse.  Although Avery's work always involved a recognizable subject such as figures in an interior, still lifes or landscapes he successfully achieved a subtle balance between representation and abstraction, permeating his oeuvre with a mysterious, inner sensibility.  Indeed, Avery's aesthetic, based upon an intuitive, spiritual response to nature, set him very much apart from the mainstream art of the thirties and forties, which was dominated by Realism imbued with socialist and/or regionalist overtones.  Avery's work thus stands as a critical link between the early European colorists and the artist of the New York School, such as Morris Louis, Helen Frankenthaler and Mark Rothko (who once described Avery as a "great poet-inventor who had invented sonorities never seen nor heard before").  In addition to painting in oil, Avery was also a gifted watercolorist.  He also produced numerous drypoint etchings and monotypes, as well as drawings.

Milton Avery died of a heart attack in New York in 1965.  A preeminent figure in the tradition of American Modernism, he remains one of the few contemporary artists whose contributions have constantly been reevaluated with each development in American painting.

Examples of Avery's work can be found in the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; and in other major public collections throughout the United States.

CL

© The essay herein is the property of Spanierman Gallery and is copyrighted by Spanierman Gallery. It may not be reproduced without written permission from Spanierman Gallery nor shown or communicated to anyone without due credit being given to Spanierman Gallery.

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Biography from LewAllen Galleries:
Milton Clark Avery was born in 1885 in Altmar, New York. Largely self-taught, Avery is today regarded as one of the great early modern American artists; his inspired palette, simplified forms and unwavering commitment to a figurative tradition have secured him a place not only in the canon but also in the hearts of the American public. Always at odds with the dominate style of the time, be it the American Scene Painting and Social Realism of the 1930s and ‘40s or the Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s, Avery’s oeuvre is a labor of singular dedication.

As a boy, Avery worked factory jobs to help support his large family following their move to Connecticut in 1898. He did not seriously begin to pursue art until sometime following his father’s death in 1905, when he intermittently attended classes at the Connecticut League of Art Students. He made his artistic debut in 1915 at the Wadsworth Atheneum’s Fifth Annual Exhibition of Oil Painting and Sculpture. His land and seascapes of this time employ the “heavy impasto, light palette and atmospheric mistiness of American Impressionists Ernest Lawson and John Henry Twatchman.”

In 1925 Avery relocated to New York to be closer to his future bride. Following his marriage in 1926 he was able to quit working and paint full time. At this time Avery replaced the light-drenched palette of his Hartford days with more muted tones. He also exchanged his heavy impasto for thin washes of pigment, which he used to create veiled fields of color. In 1927 Avery exhibited with the Society of Independent Artists. Success quickly followed. Two of his paintings were selected for inclusion in a 1928 group show at the Opportunity Gallery in New York. Also in 1928, renowned collector Louis Kaufman became the first person to purchase a painting by the artist; and in 1929 Duncan Phillips purchased Winter Riders, 1929 for the Phillips Memorial Gallery, making it Avery’s first painting to enter a museum collection.

Avery’s signature figurative style characterized by simple forms and flattened shapes filled with arbitrary color “in the manner of Matisse” was fully developed by the 1940s. His work as a colorist greatly influenced succeeding generations of artists, specifically Color Field painters Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and Adolph Gottlieb.

In 1944 he was given his first solo museum exhibition at the Phillips Memorial Gallery. That same year, he entered into a contract with famed dealer Paul Rosenberg, in which Rosenberg agreed to purchase 25 of Avery’s paintings twice a year. In 1952 the Baltimore Museum of Art hosted Avery’s first museum retrospective, and Avery was the subject of a major article in Arts magazine by eminent art critic Clement Greenberg. In 1960 the Whitney Museum of American Art hosted his second museum retrospective.

Avery’s work can be seen in the collections of many prestigious institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum , New York City; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University; the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford; and, in Washington, DC, not only the Phillips Collection but also the National Gallery of Art, the Hirshhorn Museum of the Smithsonian Institution, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. He is the subject of several monographs including Milton Avery: Paintings, 1930-1960 by Hilton Kramer (1962).

Biography from Julie Heller Gallery:
MILTON AVERY (1885 - 1965)

While supporting himself with factory jobs, Milton Avery studied life drawing and painting at the Connecticut League of Art Students in Hartford (enrolling sometime between 1905 and 1911).  In 1917 he began working nights in order to paint in the daytime.  The following year he transferred to the School of the Art Society of Hartford.  Avery's landscapes and seascapes of the early 1920s use the heavy impasto, light palette, and atmospheric mistiness of the American Impressionists Ernest Lawson and John Henry Twachtman.

With his move to New York in 1925, where he encountered the work of Matisse and the pre-Cubist work of Picasso, Avery began to simplify forms into broad areas of close-valued color.  Although Avery's art became increasingly abstract, he never abandoned representational subject matter, painting figure groups, still lifes, landscapes, and seascapes.  His mature style, developed by the mid-1940s, is characterized by a reduction of elements to their essential forms, elimination of detail, and surface patterns of flattened shapes, filled with arbitrary color in the manner of Matisse.  Early in Avery's career, when Social Realism and American Scene painting were the prevailing artistic styles, the semi-abstract tendencies in his work were viewed by many as too radical.  In the 1950s, a period dominated by Abstract Expressionism, he was overlooked by critics because of his adherence to recognizable subject matter. Nevertheless, his work, with its emphasis on color, was important to many younger artists, particularly to Mark Rothko, Adolph Gottlieb, Barnett Newman, Helen Frankenthaler, and other Color Field painters.

Source: Patterson Sims (Whitney Museum of American Art: selected works from the permanent collection)


Biography from MB Fine Art, LLC:
Milton Avery was an abstract painter whose work is a dialogue between line, shape and muted color.  He is considered one of the most sophisticated 20th- century artists, and although never associated with a particular movement, influenced succeeding generations of artists including Color Field painters Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb.

Born in Altmar, New York, he studied art in Hartford, Connecticut before settling in New York City in 1925.  Although much of his painting is abstract, he never abandoned realistic images.

1944 was a watershed year for Avery, largely because of a new gallery association with Paul Rosenberg in New York.  Rosenberg had fled to New York from Europe with both a strong interest and inventory of avant-garde paintings, which he wanted to enhance.  In addition to this collection, he agreed to buy twenty-five of Avery's paintings twice a year, which meant that Avery did not have to worry about money and was free to create.

With this new freedom, he became much more prolific, and his style changed from a brushy, painterly application and graphic detailing to denser, more even areas of flattened color within delineated forms.

As his career continued, he became more and more focused on concentrated color within simple, broadly contoured shapes.  He perfected the technique of applying thin washes of paint to create veiled fields of color.

In January, 1949, he had an heart attack that left him physically weak for the remainder of his life, and he died in 1965, having suffered a second heart attack three years earlier.

Biography from The Columbus Museum of Art, Georgia:
Born in Sand Bank, New York, in 1885, Milton Avery relocated to Hartford, Connecticut in 1898 with his family.  After having numerous different jobs and working in countless factories, Avery saved enough money to paint fulltime.

Although Avery’s art was then conservative, he maintained a strong emphasis on color. After marrying Sally Michel in 1924, the couple settled in New York City.  At this time the influences of Matisse and Picasso are evident in his work.  While Avery continued to paint traditional themes throughout his life, he always experimented with color and abstraction.  By the mid-1940s, his style focused largely on the flattened shapes, the absence of details, and the reduction of subjects to their basic forms.
Submitted by the staff of the Columbus Museum, Georgia

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