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Milton Avery (American, 1885-1965)


Also known as:  Avery, Milton Clark

Birth Place: Altmar (Oswego county, New York state, United States)

The best insight into Milton Avery’s work is given by the artists himself: "I always take something out of my pictures, strip the design to essentials; the facts do not interest me so much as the essence of nature. I never have any rules to follow. I follow myself. I began painting by myself in the Connecticut countryside, always directly from nature....I have long been interested in trying to express on canvas a painting with a few, large, simplified spaces." Avery’s work utilizes color relations to create simplified figures by applying thin, flat brush work. Whether applied to a landscape, still-life, or portrait, this technique removes the audience’s ability to take cues from the details and instead leaves them with their own interpretation of color and shapes. Known as the American Matisse, Milton Avery based his paintings on nature while pushing pure abstraction to its limits.

Avery was born in rural New York in 1893. At the age of 16, he began taking various manufacturing jobs to supplement the family income. When these responsibilities allowed, Avery attended the Connecticut League of Art Students under Charles Noel Flagg and the Art Society School under Albertus Jones. Due to this traditional education, Avery’s early work is more representational and utilized an enamel like paint as well as a lighter palette. In 1924, Avery moved to New York and was financially supported by his wife, illustrator Sally Michel. His first solo exhibition was at the Opportunity Gallery in New York. During this time, Avery’s style was heightened by his flat, thin layers of paint revealing simplified forms similar to European abstract artists. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Avery painted and drew at the Art Students League of New York where he met Roy Neuberger. Neuberger, infatuated with Avery’s technique, bought over 100 paintings from Avery and saw that they were rotated through high-profile museums. With these exhibitions, Milton Avery’s reputation grew tremendously allowing for him to explore his technique to the fullest. The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. was the first museum to purchase a work from Avery and later hosted his first solo museum exhibition in 1944. Since then, Milton Avery’s work has been circulated, exhibited, and acclaimed throughout the world as one of the great American Modern Abstract artists.

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