“What was Avery's repertoire? His living room, Central Park, his wife Sally, his daughter March, the beaches and mountains where they summered; cows, fish heads, the flight of birds; his friends and whatever world strayed through his studio: a domestic, unheroic cast. But from these there have been fashioned great canvases, that far from the casual and transitory implications of the subjects, have always a gripping lyricism, and often achieve the permanence and monumentality of Egypt.” – Mark Rothko
The success of Milton Avery's art lies in his ability to modernize a familiar domestic scene, by transforming it into a carefully orchestrated arrangement of color and pattern. Using this basic format, Avery produced oils and watercolors for over three decades. Throughout the thirty-five years of Avery's mature career - from 1930 to 1965 - his work was largely divided between quiet, contemplative scenes of the natural world and depictions of family and friends at leisure - playing games, making music, painting, reading, and relaxing at the beach. In this wonderful mid-career work, strongly influenced by European Masters, Avery depicts his wife Sally, smoking and with somewhat of a defiant attitude, seated in an armchair that features in many of his portraits.
Avery developed a unique visual vocabulary inspired in part by European modernism while wholly embracing the American vernacular. Over the years, his work has inspired generations of artists—abstract and figurative painters alike. Avery's work is seminal to American abstract painting—while his work is clearly representational, it focuses on color relations and is not concerned with creating the illusion of depth as most conventional Western painting since the Renaissance has. Avery was often thought of as an American Matisse, especially because of his colorful and innovative landscape paintings. His poetic, bold and creative use of drawing and color set him apart from more conventional painting of his era. Early in his career, his work was considered too radical for being too abstract; when Abstract Expressionism became dominant his work was overlooked, as being too representational. French Fauvism and German Expressionism influenced the style of Avery's early work until the end of 1930s.
The son of a tanner, Avery began working at a local factory at the age of 16 and supported himself for decades with a succession of blue-collar jobs. His interest in art led him to attend classes at the Connecticut League of Art Students in Hartford, and over a period of years, he painted in obscurity while receiving a conservative art education. In 1917, he began working night jobs in order to paint in the daytime. In 1924, he met Sally Michel, a young art student, and in 1926, they married. Her income as an illustrator enabled him to devote himself more fully to painting. For several years in the late 1920s through the late 1930s, Avery practiced painting and drawing at the Art Students League of New York. Roy Neuberger saw his work and thought he deserved recognition. Determined to get the world to know and respect Avery's work, Neuberger bought over 100 of his paintings, starting with Gaspé Landscape, and lent or donated them to museums all over the world. With the work of Milton Avery rotating through high-profile museums, he came to be a highly respected and successful painter. In the 1930s, he was befriended by Adolph Gottlieb and Mark Rothko among many other artists living in New York City in the 1930s–40s. It was Rothko who wrote perhaps the most vivid summation of Avery's art, quoted above.
Avery’s works are in the collections of many important museums, including Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art in New York City, Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, National Gallery of Art and Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Australia, Tate Modern in London, Philadelphia Museum of Art and others.
Mr. & Mrs. Robert K. Haas Private Collection, Canada
Milton Avery Retrospective and Recent Paintings, Grace Borgenicht Gallery, New York, December 1962