Art critic Hilton Kramer described Milton Avery (1885-1965) as “without question, our greatest colorist… Among his European contemporaries, only Matisse—to whose art he owed much, of course—produced a greater achievement in this respect.” One of the seminal American abstract painters, Avery focused on color relations to create stunning works of modern art. His poetic and bold landscapes, as well as their uniqueness when compared to other artists of his time, mean that he is often described as the American Matisse.
The son of a tanner, Avery started work at a local factory at the age of 16, and continued to support himself for decades doing a series of blue-collar jobs. When his brother-in-law died in 1915, and he was left the sole support of nine female relatives, he began taking art classes at the Connecticut League of Art Students in Hartford. He began working night jobs to support his daytime life as an obscure painter. Discovered by American art financier Roy Neuberger in the 1930s, Avery’s work gained recognition when Neuberger bought over 100 of his paintings and lent them to museums around the world.
Avery’s motto was “why talk when you can paint,” and he was an immense influence to later modern artists such as Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb. He was made a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1963, and he died in Woodstock, New York in 1965. After his death, his wife, Sally Avery donated all of his papers to the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian, where they can be viewed at Milton Avery Papers Online.
The Lannan Foundation owned the only copy of Avery’s Red Fishermen which was made into a popular poster and featured on the hit television show “Thirtysomething” in the early nineties.