Milton Avery (March 7, 1885 – January 3, 1965) was an American modern painter.
He was born in Altmar, New York, moved to Connecticut in 1898, and later to New York City.
He supported himself with factory jobs and for many years he lived in obscurity. In 1917 he began working at night in order to paint in the daytime. 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.
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 is likened by some scholars to be an American Matisse. 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.
In the 1930s he was befriended by Adolph Gottlieb and Mark Rothko amongst many other artist living in New York City in the 1930's-40's.
The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. was the first museum to purchase one of Avery's paintings in 1929; that museum also gave him his first solo museum exhibition in 1944.
Avery was a man of few words. "Why talk when you can paint?" he often quipped to his wife, Sally Avery. Sally Avery was an artist herself as well. Their daughter, March Avery, is also a painter.
Milton Avery is buried in Artists Cemetery, Woodstock, Ulster County, New York. After his death in 1965, widow Sally Avery donated the artist's personal papers to the Archives of American Art, a research center of the Smithsonian Institution. In 2007, the Archives optically scanned these papers and made them available to researchers as the Milton Avery Papers Online.