Milton Avery (1885-1965) was an American painter and printmaker. Born in New York, he spent his childhood in Connecticut and studied at the Connecticut League of Art Students in Hartford. Although the subjects of his paintings were rooted in realism, it was the simplified shapes and flat colors derived from European artists such as Picasso and Matisse that inspired his palette. Avery moved to New York and in 1926 married the artist Sally Michel, and began painting full time. In 1928 two of his paintings were shown in the Opportunity Gallery of New York, alongside works by emerging artist Mark Rothko. In 1929, Duncan Phillips purchased Winter Riders, the first of many Avery paintings to enter a museum collection. In the years that followed, his work was shown in numerous exhibitions mounted by major New York galleries and American museums.
His widening sphere of influence included friendships with fellow artists such as Rothko, Adolph Gottlieb, and later, Barnet Newman. Despite this association with these Color Field artists, Avery never fully embraced abstraction and remained true to representational art throughout his career. In June 1949 he suffered a major heart attack from which he never fully recovered. While recuperating in Florida, he began to paint quieter works, made up of a softer palette and layers of thin washes of paint. Painting in Provincetown in the summers, from 1957 to 1961, he produced works such as Dunes and Sea II (1960), inspired by the coastal landscape of Cape Cod. These large canvases, painted in the last phase of his career, drew critical acclaim. However, as Avery’s fame grew, his health worsened. He was too ill to attend the opening of a retrospective of his work at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1960. In 1961 he suffered a second heart attack. He died in 1965 at the age of 79. During his lifetime, Avery received numerous awards from American art institutions. He was in residence at MacDowell three times, in 1953, 1954, and 1956.