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Milton Clark Avery

Milton Clark Avery

While supporting himself with factory jobs, Milton Avery studied life drawing and painting at the Connecticut League of Art Students in Hartford (enrolling sometime between 1905 and 1911).  In 1917 he began working nights in order to paint in the daytime.  The following year he transferred to the School of the Art Society of Hartford.  Avery’s landscapes and seascapes of the early 1920s use the heavy impasto, light palette, and atmospheric mistiness of the American Impressionists Ernest Lawson and John Henry Twachtman.

With his move to New York in 1925, where he encountered the work of Matisse and the pre-Cubist work of Picasso, Avery began to simplify forms into broad areas of close-valued color.  Although Avery’s art became increasingly abstract, he never abandoned representational subject matter, painting figure groups, still lifes, landscapes, and seascapes.  His mature style, developed by the mid-1940s, is characterized by a reduction of elements to their essential forms, elimination of detail, and surface patterns of flattened shapes, filled with arbitrary color in the manner of Matisse.  Early in Avery’s career, when Social Realism and American Scene painting were the prevailing artistic styles, the semi-abstract tendencies in his work were viewed by many as too radical.  In the 1950s, a period dominated by Abstract Expressionism, he was overlooked by critics because of his adherence to recognizable subject matter. Nevertheless, his work, with its emphasis on color, was important to many younger artists, particularly to Mark Rothko, Adolph Gottlieb, Barnett Newman, Helen Frankenthaler, and other Color Field painters.

Source: Patterson Sims (Whitney Museum of American Art: selected works from the permanent collection)