One of the most influential artists of the twentieth century, Milton Avery (1885–1965) is celebrated for his luminous paintings of landscapes, figures and still lifes, which balance distillation of form with free, vigorous brushwork and lyrical colour.
Born in Altmar, New York, in 1885, Milton Avery moved with his family to Hartford, Connecticut in 1905. After studying at the Connecticut League of Art Students, he worked a succession of night jobs in order to paint during the daytime. Avery moved to New York in 1925 and in 1926 married Sally Michel, whose earnings as an illustrator enabled him to concentrate more fully on painting. His first exhibition in New York was in 1927, though it was not until 1935 that he had his first one-man exhibition, at the Valentine Gallery, New York. In 1944 his first solo museum exhibition opened at the Phillips Memorial Gallery, Washington, DC. In 1952 he visited Europe for the first time, travelling to London, Paris and the French Riviera. A retrospective exhibition opened at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, in 1960; a second retrospective was held at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1982. In 1962 Milton Avery: Painting 1930-1960 by Hilton Kramer, the first monograph on Avery, was published. Milton Avery died on 3 January 1965 in New York, aged 79.
Avery pursued an independent and steadfast course throughout his career. Always drawing imagery from the world around him, in particular the landscapes and people he loved, his art is as intimate and accessible as it is towering in its ambition and achievement. With his focus on simplified forms and use of colour as a primary means of expression, in the 1930s he profoundly influenced and won the devotion of fellow artists including future abstract expressionists Mark Rothko, Adolph Gottlieb and Barnett Newman. Rothko in particular admired the “gripping lyricism” of Avery’s work. However, while seeking to express an idea in its simplest form, Avery never sought pure abstraction for himself. Above all, he is an artist who resists categorisation. “I never have any rules to follow,” he stated in 1952, “I follow myself.”
Avery’s work is represented in museums and private collections worldwide, including: Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY; Art Institute of Chicago, IL; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; Museum of Modern Art, NY; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA; The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC; Tate, London; Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum of Art, Madrid, Spain; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN; Whitney Museum of American Art, NY; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT.
Organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, London, in collaboration with the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas, and Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut, a major retrospective of Avery’s work commenced at The Modern, Fort Worth (7 November 2021–30 January 2022), travelling to the Wadsworth Atheneum (24 February–5 June 2022) and the Royal Academy of Arts (15 July–16 October 2022).