MILTON AVERY (1885-1965)
Born in New York and raised in Connecticut, Milton Avery began steadily working through a variety of blue-collar jobs at the age of 16. While interested in art, his brother-in-law passed away, leaving him, as the only male, to support 9 female relatives. However, by 1917, he was able to work night jobs to paint during the day after studying painting at the Connecticut League of Art Students in Hartford. After marrying Sally Michel, another young art student, in 1926, he was able to fully devote his time to painting while she supported them as a successful illustrator. Avery’s work was discovered by another native of Connecticut, investor Roy Neuberger, who bought dozens of his paintings and lent them to exhibitions in museums internationally, which soon launched into the art world spotlight. The first work he purchased from Avery, Gaspé Landscape, still hangs in his apartment to this day as a token of his efforts to introduce the budding artist to audiences. In 1929, the Phillips Collection of Washington D.C. was the first museum to purchase Avery’s work for its collection, leading him into the 1930’s where he worked alongside friends Adolph Gottlieb and Mark Rothko.
His work is recognizable for its vibrant hues and skilled use of color, as well as his distinct abandonment of depth. His work disregarded the canon established during the Renaissance, focusing instead on layers of planes rather than distinguishing foreground from background. While his utilization of oil paint uses heavily layers with under-paintings and earlier coats peer through, most often seen in his series of land and seascapes in the 1950’s and on, his earlier watercolor work is more gestural and spontaneous, capturing a brief moment with careful haste.
Avery spent the majority of his summers throughout the Northeast, the subjects of his cape seascapes in richer pigments. In 1960, the Whitney Museum of American Art exhibited a retrospective of the artist’s work. Foreshadowed later in his career by the kinetic and loud works of Abstract Expressionism, Avery is a key American Modernist whose work exudes a passion for the images in life unseen by his descendents.