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Milton Avery papers, 1926-1982, bulk 1950-1982

Milton Avery papers, 1926-1982, bulk 1950-1982

Avery, Milton, 1885-1965

Painter, Printmaker

Representative image for Milton Avery papers, 1926-1982, bulk 1950-1982

The papers of Milton Avery in the Archives of American Art were digitized in 2007. The papers have been scanned in their entirety, and total 6,149 images.

The collection was fully digitized in 2006 as part of the Terra Foundation for American Art Digitization Grant.

Collection Information

Size: 2.8 linear feet

Summary: 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 records of the Milton Avery Trust (2.4 linear feet) maintained by Avery's wife Sally, who served as a trustee. The remainder consists of Milton Avery's business and personal correspondence (five folders) including letters from friends and fellow artists, including a few from George Duthuit, Louis Eilshemius, Marsden Hartley, Wallace Putnam, Mark Rothko, and others; scattered writings about Avery, price lists, estate records, exhibition announcements and catalogs, and news clippings.

Biographical/Historical Note

Milton Avery (1885-1965) was a painter in New York, N.Y. Year of birth has always been given as 1893; however, both the federal census report of 1900 and February 18, 1892 election district records for the town of Albion indicate that the actual year of birth was 1885.

Provenance

Donated 1968, 1969, and 1982 by Mrs. Milton Avery, widow of Milton Avery, except for portions lent for cataloging.

Related Materials

Funding

The collection was fully digitized in 2006 as part of the Terra Foundation for American Art Digitization Grant.

Location of Originals

  • Six scrapbooks, sketchbook, Christmas cards, exhibition catalogs, and photographs were returned to Sally Avery after microfilming.

A Finding Aid to the Milton Avery Papers,
1926-1982
(bulk 1950-1982)
, in the Archives of American Art
AAA.avermilt
Author
Finding aid prepared by Erin Corley
Biographical Note
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.
Arrangement
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)
Scope and Content Note
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.
Provenance
Donated 1968, 1969, and 1982 by Mrs. Milton Avery, widow of Milton Avery, except for portions lent for cataloging.
Separated Material
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.
Location of Originals
  • Six scrapbooks, sketchbook, Christmas cards, exhibition catalogs, and photographs were returned to Sally Avery after microfilming.
Processing Information
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.

Additional Forms Available

The collection was digitized in 2007 and is available via the Archives of American Art's website.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.

How to Cite This Collection

Milton Avery papers, 1926-1982, bulk 1950-1982. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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