Milton Avery 1893 —1965
Marc Rothko remarked: “Avery is first a great poet. His is the poetry of sheer loveliness of sheer beauty. Thanks to him this kind of poetry has been able to survive in our time. . . . There have been several others in our generation who have celebrated the world around them, but none with that inevitability where the poetry penetrated every pore of the canvas to the very last touch of the brush”
(“Commemorative Essay,” essay in Milton Avery] New York: Whitney Museum of American Art. 1982], p. 181). (Mark Rothko 1965)
Milton Avery's transforming eye turned the fabric of everyday life into a serene poetry of color and form. This was all the more remarkable because Avery's adherence to representational art meant that the transformed object always remained recognizable, reminding the viewer that, properly regarded, the details of our daily existence, combined and recombined, can indeed be reconfigured to create a beautiful world.
Avery went his own way. His paintings are explorations of color and form grounded in recognizable shapes. As someone whose work defied simplistic description, neither a realist nor an abstract artist, he was enormously respected by his colleagues, but for a long time, critically and popularly underappreciated. Avery was part of an elite circle of modern artists that included Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and Adolph Gottlieb. His friendships with Rothko and Gottlieb were particularly close, with each of these younger artists seeking support and criticism from Avery. Avery wrote: “I work on two levels. I try to understand a picture in which shapes, colors form a set of unique relationships independent of any subject matter. At the same time I try to capture and translate the excitement and emotion aroused in me by the impact of the original idea.”
Avery was no child of privilege. He came of English stock long settled in north central New York. Although some collateral relations were locally prominent, Avery's father, Russell, was a tanner in the neighborhood of Lake Ontario. When the local tanning industry declined, the Avery family tanning moved to Wilson Station, Connecticut, a rural suburb of East Hartford. As Barbara Haskell describes in Milton Avery (exhib. cat. [New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1982-83], p.16), "the Averys were working class."
The extended family lived together, parents, siblings and spouses. By 1915, Milton Avery had outlived his father, his two brothers and his brother-in-law, leaving him in a house with his mother, his widowed sister, his widowed sister-in-law, and six nieces. He was the sole male wage-earner. Avery had been working at a variety of industrial jobs since he left school at the age of sixteen. Sometime between 1905 and 1911, thinking he might earn a living as a professional letterer, he enrolled in a Hartford evening art school, the Connecticut League of Art Students. He remained there until 1918, while working full-time shifts in local factories. Avery was, all of his life, a working-class artist with no fancy airs, no self pity, and a gift for finding light and joy in the ordinary. Haskell's description of his modus operandi sheds light both on the man and on the nature of the art he produced:
Painting was Avery's work; he approached it with utter dedication, eliminating all unrelated activities and interests. Routine and discipline became his means of combating uncertainty. His sense of discipline pushed him to rise at the same early hour each morning and paint or sketch most of the day. Because Avery viewed painting as a duty, his approach was that of an artisan and his attitude without pretension or agony. He likened himself to a shoemaker-working every day, regardless of mood or inspiration. Avery was known to scoff at artists who complained about lacking sufficient inspiration or who used moodiness to camouflage lack of discipline (ibid., p. 17).
A blank canvas is a thing of beauty. The challenge is to cover it and still retain that radiance. (Milton Avery)
From 1917 to 1922, Avery worked as a clerk for the Traveler's Insurance Company on a 6 p.m. to midnight shift that allowed him to attend daytime art classes. All of this meant that Avery was no wunderkind. He was thirty years old before he first exhibited publicly in 1915 in a group show at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford. He was thirty-five years old before he first visited Gloucester, Massachusetts, a favorite artists' summer colony. Avery returned to Gloucester in 1921 and 1924. That year he met Sally Michel, a young artist from Brooklyn. In 1925, Avery moved to New York City to be near Sally. In 1926, despite a wide age disparity and her parents' opposition, they married. Only after his marriage to Sally, who was always able to find work as a commercial artist, was Milton Avery free to spend all of his time painting. The Averys were a devoted couple who lived simply and worked hard at what they wanted to do. Throughout his career Avery used his wife and daughter as his models, as well as himself, and his everyday life as his subject matter.
Barbara Haskell's sketch of Avery is fascinating for its thorough excavation of Avery's biography. She clarifies the date of Avery's birth (1885, and not 1893 as previously believed), details Avery's long period of study and art apprenticeship, and explains, without in any way diminishing Avery's art, how he was neither self-taught (as has been sometimes claimed), nor insulated from the influence of his American and European contemporaries, despite the fact that he did not make his first trip to Europe until 1952. Haskell notes that the two modernists whose work had the most profound influence on Avery in his early career were Picasso and Matisse, each of whose work was frequently on display in New York. Avery's genius was to blend the artistic freedom that these avant-garde artists represented with classically American subject matter that was commonly practiced by his contemporaries. Haskell writes:
The aesthetic Avery evolved during his first years in New York reflected both the European modernism he saw and the work of the American academics with whom he associated. He felt comfortable with this American tradition but he could not embrace its ideological emphasis on subject matter; conversely, the theoretical concerns of the European avant-garde were alien to him, but he was stimulated by its techniques and pictorial freedom. His solution was to advance American academic art by overlaying it with European avant-garde devices, primarily those of Matisse and Picasso. Consequently, he pushed the academic tradition farther in the direction of European modernism than did any of his contemporaries at the Art Students League (p.37).
From the mid-1920s through the 1930s, Avery's work was grounded in a subtle, modulated color palette derived from Picasso, with simplified color regions and strongly modeled forms inspired by the works of Matisse. As the decade of the 1930s drew to a close, Avery's work grew increasingly abstract, though he never became ungrounded from realistic subjects. By about 1940, Avery fanned out into greater explorations of color, as he shifted more toward the fauvist palette of Matisse. What is consistent among all of his work is an abiding interest in the relationships of forms and color harmonies, and their means of expressing the his personal connection to the subject. Avery’s essential concerns are the pictorial and thematic. Avery renders his figures in just a few, broad color regions as he does his landscapes, his cows, birds and other objects, using a sgraffito technique with the end of his brush to scratch in a few cursory anatomical details.
Roy R. Neuberger a prominent collector of modern art and supporter of modern artists focused on Avery particularly. In his many years as a collector, Neuberger has collected works by such artists as Alexander Calder, Stuart Davis, Louis Eilshemius. Edward Hopper, Jacob Lawrence, Jack Levine, Jackson Pollock, Ben Shahn, David Smith, as well as the works of Milton Avery. “Marin, Prendergast, Demuth; Avery belongs in their company. He is in the modernist current of American Art and also and more importantly the shaper of some of it.” (Matt Phillips, Bard College).
Beginning about 1940, Neuberger amassed a over one hundred works by Avery-on at least two occasions he bought a gallery's entire stock of Averys- He purchased from Valentine Gallery, who handled Avery's work until 1943, and Paul Rosenberg & Co., who handled Avery’s work until 1959 then Grace Borgenicht Gallery who succeeded to the representation of Milton Avery.
Roy Newberger distributed these works as gifts to a number of American museums and public collections. The Roy R Neuberger Museum, Bard College at SUNY Purchase NY is the recipient of over 100 of Roy Neuberger’s Avery paintings.
An important source for modern and contemporary American & European Art in East Hampton, New York & worldwide, Vered Gallery's spectacular wide-ranging inventory consists of unique paintings, drawings, large & small scale sculpture, monotypes, prints and photographs by Ansel Adams, Milton Avery, Richard Avedon, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Romare Bearden, Fernando Botero, Cartier-Bresson, Marc Chagall, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Willem De Kooning, Richard Diebenkorn, Thomas Eakins, Childe Hassam, David Hockney, Winslow Homer, Wolf Kahn, Jeff Koons, Fernand Leger, Roy Lichtenstein, Man Ray, Thomas Moran, Henry Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Rothko, Cindy Sherman, Charles Sheeler, Bert Stern, Alfred Stieglitz, Andy Warhol, Carleton E Watkins, Tom Wesselmann and Andrew Wyeth.
To bookmark Vered Gallery website: http://www.veredart.com
View synoptic biography below.
Milton Avery's works are in the permanent collections of museums in America and Europe including:
Addison Gallery of American Art; Akron Art Museum; Allen Memorial Art Museum; Arizona State University Art Museum; Art Institute of Chicago; Boca Raton Museum of Art; Brooklyn Museum of Art; Butler Institute of American Art; Cantor Arts Center, Stanford; Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh/Carnegie; Chrysler Museum of Art; Cincinnati Art Museum; Colby College Museum of Art; Crocker Art Museum; Dallas Museum of Art; Delaware Art Museum; Denver Art Museum; Flint Institute of Arts; Frederick R Weisman Art Museum; George Walter Vincent Smith Museum; Herbert F Johnson Museum of Art; High Museum of Art; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; Indianapolis Museum of Art; Jack S Blanton Museum of Art; Joslyn Art Museum; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Lowe Art Museum; Lyman Allyn Museum; Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum; Mead Art Museum; Memorial Art Gallery; Memphis Brooks Museum of Art; Metropolitan Museum of Art; Michael C Carlos Museum; Middlebury College Museum of Art; Minneapolis Institute of Arts; Mobile Museum of Art; Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts; Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute; Museum of Fine Arts Boston; National Gallery of Art; Neuberger Museum of Art; Newark Museum; New Jersey State Museum; New Orleans Museum of Art; Oakland Museum of California; Oklahoma City Museum of Art; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Phoenix Art Museum; Portland Art Museum; Princeton University Art; Museum; Rhode Island School of Design-Museum of Art; Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis; San Diego Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Santa Barbara Museum of Art; Smithsonian American Art Museum; The Art Museum, Princeton University; The Brooklyn Museum of Art; The Columbus Museum of Art-Ohio; The Dayton Art Institute;The Detroit Institute of Arts; The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art; The Montclair Art Museum; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; The Museum of Modern Art; The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art; The Newark Museum; The Phillips Collection; The Toledo Museum of Art; The University of Arizona Museum of Art; The University of Michigan Museum of Art; USC Fisher Gallery; Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art; Whitney Museum of American Art; Worcester Art Museum; and Yale University Art Gallery.
Milton Avery Biography (Synoptic)
1885 "Born" in Sand Bank (Altmar), New York.
1898 Averys move to Wilson Station, near East Hartford, CT.
1901 Works at Hartford Machine and Screw Co. as an aligner and then as an assembler.
1904 Works at Underwood Manufacturing Co., as an assembler, a latheman and a mechanic.
1905 Enrolls at Connecticut League of Art Students in Hartford, CT; remains at the League until 1918.
1915 "Fifth Annual Exhibition of Oil Paintings and Sculpture", Annex Gallery, Hartford, CT; first public exhibition.
1918 Transfers from Connecticut League of Art Studies to School of the Art Society of Hartford.
1919 Wins top honors in portrait and life-drawing classes.
1920 Visits Gloucester, MA for the first time.
1921 Returns to Gloucester for the summer and spends several future summers there.
1923 Begins working at United States Tire and Rubber Company
1924 Employed as a construction worker in East Hartford. Becomes member of the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts. Meets Sally Michel in Gloucester.
1925 Moves to New York City with artist Wallace Putnam, in order to be near Sally. Lives on Staten Island in a free room with a friend.
1926 Marries Sally Michel. Spends summer in Gloucester. Attends Arts Students League sketch class several evenings a week. Esther March Avery dies on December 29.
1927 Included in Independents exhibition in New York.
1928 Bernard Karfiol selects two Avery paintings for an Opportunity Gallery show.
1928 Begins friendship with Mark Rothko.
1929 Awarded the Athenaeum Price for "Brooklyn Bridge" in the annual Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts exhibition. "Winter Riders", 1929, purchased by the Phillips Memorial Gallery in Washington D.C. out of a group exhibition at Morton Galleries in New York. Meets Adolph Gottlieb through Rothko.
1930 Awarded Mr. and Mrs. Frank C. Logan Prize for "White Horse"1930 in the annual water color exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago.
1931 Vacations with Gottlieb, Rothko and Barnett Newman. March, his daughter, is born in October. Makes dry points with copperplates from Progressive Grocer printer. Works in this medium until 1948.
1933-4 Spends the summer in Gloucester.
1935 Joins the Valentine Gallery. First one-man show there in March. Dr. Albert Barnes purchases "The Nursemaid" of 1934. Spends the summer in Jamaica, VT.
1938 Works briefly in the Easel Division of the Works Progress Administration/Federal Art Project; stops because he resents signing the obligatory pauper's oath. Spends the summer in Quebec. Upon his return to NYC, moves to Greenwich Village. Stops attending the Art Students League; Averys and friends hire models several times a week and sketch at home.
1939 Summer in Rawsonville, VT.
1939 Sally Avery gets a job as illustrator for the "Child and Parent" column in the New York Times Magazine. Summer in Rawsonville, VT.
1940 Summer, drives to California; stops in Yellowstone and Glacier national parks. One month spent in Laguna Beach, CA
1941 Summer in New York due to wartime gas rationing. Last show with the Valentine Gallery.
1942 Joins Paul Rosenberg & Co.; has first show there in June. Begins dating pictures on front of canvas on Rosenberg's advice. The Valentine Gallery sells Roy Neuberger its inventory of 35 Averys. Spends the summer in Gloucester. The Gottliebs and Rothkos visit.
1945 Concurrent exhibitions at the Rosenberg and Durand-Ruel galleries. Continues to show with both dealers for the next 5 years.
1946 Summer in Mexico; stays 6 weeks in San Miguel de Allende.
1947 "My Daughter March" Exhibition at Durand-Ruel - Avery's first retrospective. Summer in Canada.
1948 Summer in Pemaquid, Maine. Laurel Gallery publishes a portfolio of five of his drypoints in an edition of 100. Receives first prize for "Sea and Rocks" in the Baltimore National Watercolor Exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Health is very poor.
1949 Suffers major heart attack; in hospital for 6 weeks; last show with Paul Rosenberg & Co. Spends summer in Millbrook, NY. Spends winter at Research Art Colony in Maitland, FL. Experiments with monotypes; executes over 200 during the next 2 years.
1950 Rosenberg and Avery terminate their association; Rosenberg sells his 50 Averys to Roy Neuberger. Spends summer at Woodstock, NY. Returns to Research Art Colony during winter. Makes lithographs (and in 1951) for fund-raising ball sponsored by Artists Equity Association of NY.
1951 Joins the Grace Borgenicht Gallery. Summer in Woodstock.
1951 Visits Europe for the first time; travels to London, Paris and the French Riviera. Does woodcuts; works in this medium until 1955.
1951 Retrospective at the Baltimore Museum of Art.
1952 Resides at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, NH; Sally and Milton are given their own studios.
1953 March marries Philip Cavanaugh after graduating from college. Summer at MacDowell Colony.
1955 Spends summer at Yaddo in NY.
1956 Summer at MacDowell Colony.
1957 Summer Provincetown, MA; executes first large format canvases.
1958 Clement Greenberg publishes a major article on Avery in "Arts."
1959 Summer Provincetown. Exhibits large-format paintings at the HCE Gallery there.
1960 Summer Provincetown. Health is bad. Moves to Central Park West. Lives in Key West for the winter.
1961 Retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art under the auspices of the American Federation of Arts. Summer Provincetown. Second heart attack in October.
1961 Recuperation. Remains in NYC because of health.
1962 Hilton Kramer writes the first book on Avery, Milton Avery: Paintings 1930-1960 Summer in Lake Hill, NY.
1964 March 6 Enters Montefiore Hospital; remains in intensive care.
1965 January 3 Dies, memorial service held at the Society for Ethical Culture in NYC. Buried in Artists Cemetery, Woodstock, NY
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