Milton Clark Avery was an American modern painter. Born in Altmar, New York, he moved to Connecticut in 1898 and later to New York City. He was the husband of artist Sally Michel Avery and the father of artist March Avery.
The son of a tanner, Avery began working at a local factory at the age of 16 and supported himself for decades with a succession of blue-collar jobs. The death of his brother-in-law in 1915 left Avery, as the sole remaining adult male in his household, responsible for the support of nine female relatives. His interest in art led him to attend classes at the Connecticut League of Art Students in Hartford, and over a period of years, he painted in obscurity while receiving a conservative art education. In 1917, he began working night jobs in order to paint in the daytime.
In 1924, he met Sally Michel, a young art student, and in 1926, they married. Her income as an illustrator enabled him to devote himself more fully to painting. Beginning in the 1930s, the two began developing a "lyrical, collaborative style" that Robert Hobbs described as "the Avery style".
They had a daughter, March Avery, in 1932.
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 Avery's work rotating through high-profile museums, he came to be a highly respected and successful painter.
In the 1930s, he was befriended by Adolph Gottlieb and Mark Rothko among many other artists living in New York City in the 1930s–40s. Avery's use of glowing color and simplified forms was an influence on the younger artists.
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. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1963.
Avery had a serious heart attack in 1949. During his convalescence he concentrated on printmaking. When he resumed painting, his work showed a new subtlety in the handling of paint, and a tendency toward slightly more muted tones.
Milton Avery died at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx, New York, on January 3, 1965 following a long illness, and is buried in the Artist's Cemetery in Woodstock, Ulster County, New York. After his passing his widow, Sally Avery, donated his personal papers to the Archives of American Art, a research center of the Smithsonian Institution.