A Finding Aid to the Milton Avery Papers,
(bulk 1950-1982), in the Archives of American Art, by Erin Corley
Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art
Table of Contents:
- Biographical Information
- Overview of the Collection
- How to Use the Collection
- Detailed Description and Container Inventory
Milton Avery (1885-1965) was born in Altmar, New York and grew up in Hartford, Connecticut. Around 1905 he began attending the Connecticut League of Art Students in Hartford where he studied life drawing while also working full-time as a factory worker and file clerk. In 1915 he had his first public exhibition and, in 1918, transferred to the School of Art Society in Hartford. In 1924 he met Sally Michel (1905-2003), a student at the Art Students League in New York, and moved to New York City to be closer to her. They married one year later. Around this time Avery also altered his year of birth to 1893, perhaps due to the age difference between him and Sally. After their marriage Sally worked as an illustrator so that Avery could paint full time.
During the early 1920s, Avery's works were traditional figurative and genre subjects, influenced by American Impressionism. By the mid 1920s, with his move to New York, Avery began to simplify his forms and use broader expanses of flat color. Although his paintings became increasingly abstract, he never fully abandoned representational subject matter, painting figure groups, still lifes, landscapes, and seascapes. By the mid-1940s, Avery's work was characterized by a reduction of elements and elimination of detail, filled with an emphasis on arbitrary color.
Avery exhibited in a group show at The Opportunity Gallery in 1928 which also featured Mark Rothko and the two became close friends. He became friends with many other artists including Adolph Gottlieb, Barnett Newman, and Marsden Hartley. Avery's color work was an important influence on many younger artists, particularly Mark Rothko, Adolph Gottlieb, Barnett Newman, Helen Frankenthaler, and other Color Field painters. The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. was the first museum to purchase one of his paintings in 1929 and to give him his first solo museum exhibition in 1944.
In 1949 Milton Avery suffered a major heart attack and began making monotypes during his recovery. He returned to painting despite periods of ill-health, and his reputation grew rapidly over the next ten years, culminating in a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 1960. He also exhibited along with his wife Sally Avery and their daughter, March Avery Cavanaugh (born in 1932), both of whom were also painters. Avery died in 1965 and left behind an oeuvre of paintings that numbers in the thousands. His wife Sally managed his estate and the sale of his works to many major museums, and served as a trustee for the Milton Avery Trust until her death in 2003.
Overview of the Collection
Scope and Contents
The papers of abstract painter Milton Avery measure 2.8 linear feet and date from 1926 to 1982, with the bulk of the collection dating from 1950 to 1982. Almost the entire collection consists of business files maintained by Milton Avery's wife Sally as a trustee for the Milton Avery Trust (2.4 linear feet). Milton Avery's business and personal correspondence (five folders) contains letters from friends and fellow artists, including a few from George Duthuit, Louis Eilshemius, Marsden Hartley, Wallace Putnam, and Mark Rothko. Also found are scattered writings about Avery, price lists, estate records, exhibition announcements and catalogs, and news clippings.
Arrangement and Series Description
The collection is arranged into 7 series:
- Series 1: Biographical Material, 1964, 1975 (Box 1; 1 folder)
- Series 2: Correspondence, 1935-1981 (Box 1; 10 folders)
- Series 3: Subject Files, 1950-1981 (Box 1-4; 2.4 linear feet)
- Series 4: Writings, circa 1951-1979 (Box 4; 5 folders)
- Series 5: Financial & Legal Records, 1943-1982 (Box 4; 6 folders)
- Series 6: Printed Material, 1926, 1962-1977 (Box 4; 4 folders)
- Series 7: Photographs, circa 1970 (Box 4; 1 folder)
Subjects and Names
This collection is indexed under the following index terms in the online catalog of the Archives of American Art.
- Painters -- New York (State) -- New York
- Painting, Abstract
- Avery, Sally
- Duthuit, Georges, 1891-
- Putnam, Wallace, 1899-
- Hartley, Marsden, 1877-1943
- Eilshemius, Louis M. (Louis Michel), 1864-1941
- Rothko, Mark, 1903-1970
The Milton Avery papers were donated in 1968, 1969, and 1982 by his widow Sally Avery, including a few letters previously loaned for microfilming.
Separated and Related Materials
Scrapbooks, a sketchbook, Christmas cards, exhibition catalogs, photographs, and correspondence were loaned between 1968 and 1982 for microfilming by Sally Avery. Loaned material is available for viewing on microfilm reels N68-95, N68-115, N69-63, and 2535, but is not described in the container listing of this finding aid.
How the Collection was Processed
Many of the letters loaned by Sally Avery and microfilmed on reel N69-63 were later donated. These were merged with additional accessions and fully processed, arranged, and described in 2007 by Erin Corley, and digitized in 2007 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.
How to Use the Collection
Restrictions on Use
The collection has been digitized and is available online via the Archives of American Art's website.
Ownership & Literary Rights
The Milton Avery papers are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.
The collection was digitized in 2007 and is available via the Archives of American Art's website.
How to Cite this Collection
Milton Avery papers, 1926-1982. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Detailed Description and Container Inventory
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1964, 1975 (Box 1; 1 folder)
One folder containing a list of Milton Avery anecdotes, excerpts from reviews, a brief biographical note, a certificate from the National Council of Jewish Women, and a brief list of biographical sources.
|1||1||Biographical Material, 1964, 1975|
Series 2: Correspondence, 1935-1981 (Box 1; 10 folders)
Correspondence consists of five folders of letters to Milton Avery and correspondence with Sally Avery and the Milton Avery Trust. Letters to Milton Avery consist of letters from people purchasing works of art, including Joseph Hirshhorn, letters from art galleries concerning the exhibition or purchase of artwork, requests for information from researchers or journalists, and several letters of congratulations for the 1960 Whitney Museum of American Art retrospective. Also found are a few letters from friends and fellow artists, including Mark Rothko, Louis Eilshemius, Marsden Hartley, Wallace Putnam, and George Duthuit.
Sally Avery's correspondence, often addressed to the Milton Avery Trust, is primarily business correspondence regarding the handling of her husband's legacy of artwork. Included are letters with individuals, galleries, and museums regarding sales and loans. Other topics include research questions, thanking her for visits, and congratulations for exhibitions. Although most of the correspondence is incoming, there are also scattered copies of outgoing correspondence. A large amount of similar business correspondence is also filed in Series 2: Subject Files.
Series 3: Subject Files, 1950-1981 (Box 1-4; 2.4 linear feet)
Subject files consist of alphabetical business files maintained by Sally Avery for art galleries, museums, collectors, colleges and universities, and other art organizations which exhibited or purchased works by Milton Avery. Files contain a wide variety of documentation, including correspondence between the organization and Sally Avery, loan agreements, exhibition or sales receipts, lists of artworks, price lists, legal documents, and printed material such as news clippings and exhibition announcements. Although most of the files are for sales and loans, some of the files are for art galleries which represented and sold Avery's work, such as the Grace Borgenicht Gallery and Gallery Reese Palley. Also found in this series is a file Sally Avery kept regarding published biographies of Milton Avery. Files are arranged alphabetically by either name or topic and documents are arranged chronologically within each folder.
|4 (hol)||1-2||Waddington Galleries, 1973-1974 (2 folders)|
|4 (hol)||3||Wadsworth Atheneum, 1962-1964|
|4 (hol)||4||Webb & Parsons Gallery, 1974-1979|
|4 (hol)||5||Western Electric, Corporate Education Organization, 1979|
|4 (hol)||6||Whitney Museum of American Art, 1966, 1979-1980|
|4 (hol)||7||Wichita State University, 1974-1977|
|4 (hol)||8||William Benton Museum of Art, 1975-1976|
|4 (hol)||9||William Zierler, Inc., 1968-1976|
|4 (hol)||10||Woodstock Artists Association, 1977|
|4 (hol)||11||Woodward Foundation, 1963-1972|
|4 (hol)||12||Yares Gallery, 1976-1978|
Series 4: Writings about Avery, circa 1951-1979 (Box 4; 5 folders)
Writings consist of essays about Milton Avery, including a draft essay by Wolf Kahn for the Art Journal, a few poems written by Aaron Cohen describing certain paintings by Avery, and a few notes written by Sally Avery. Also found are a typescript and handwritten draft of a tribute to Avery written by Mark Rothko shortly after Avery's death.
|4 (hol)||13||Aaron E. Cohen, Poetry, circa 1951|
|4 (hol)||14||Wolf Kahn, "Milton Avery's Good Example," circa 1979|
|4 (hol)||15||Annette and Louis Kaufman, "Milton Avery: Fauve Portraitist", circa 1960|
|4 (hol)||16||Mark Rothko, Written Tribute to Avery, circa 1965|
|4 (hol)||17||Notes by Sally Avery, circa 1970|
Series 5: Financial & Legal Records, 1943-1982 (Box 4; 6 folders)
Found here is a photocopy of Milton Avery's Last Will and Testament, a detailed appraisal of nearly 1000 works of art in the Milton Avery estate, price lists, and a small number of loan forms and sales receipts. Also found is one folder of the legal and financial records of the Milton Avery Estate.
|4 (hol)||18||Last Will and Testament, 1962|
|4 (hol)||19||Estate Appraisal of Artwork, 1965|
|4 (hol)||20-21||Price Lists, 1960-1974 (2 folders)|
|4 (hol)||22||Milton Avery Estate Legal and Financial Records, 1962-1972|
|4 (hol)||23||Artwork Loans and Sales Receipts, 1943-1982|
Series 6: Printed Material, 1926, 1962-1977 (Box 4; 4 folders)
Printed Material focuses primarily on Avery's later career and legacy. Included are exhibition announcements and catalogs, news clippings, various brochures, bulletins, and other announcements.
|4 (hol)||24||Exhibition Announcements, 1966-1973|
|4 (hol)||25||Exhibition Catalogs, 1926, 1966-1977|
|4 (hol)||26||News Clippings, 1963-1973|
|4 (hol)||27||Miscellaneous Printed Material, 1962-1974 (Not scanned)|
Series 7: Photographs, circa 1970 (Box 4; 1 folder)
This series contains five photographs of an unidentified exhibition of photography that does not include Avery's artwork.
|4 (hol)||28||Photographs of an Unidentified Exhibition, circa 1970 (Not scanned)|