Born in Sand Bank, Connecticut, March 7, 1885, Milton Clark Avery became interested in art as a teenager and painted nearly every day until his death. He left school at the age of sixteen and worked manufacturing jobs to support his family. After his father's death in 1905, Avery began taking art classes at the Connecticut League of Art Students in Hartford. He continued his studies in art at the School of the Art Society of Hartford and eventually became a member of the Connecticut Academy of the Fine Arts. Avery met his future wife, Sally Michel, on a summer trip to Gloucester. They were married in 1926 and moved to New York City.
The Averys quickly assimilated to New York's lively art scene. Milton enrolled in classes at the Art Students League and frequented sketch classes there until 1938. He began showing his work regularly shortly after his arrival to Manhattan. Bernard Karifol, a fellow artist, selected two of his paintings for a group show at the Opportunity Gallery in New York. It was at this show that Avery met Mark Rothko, with whom he would become especially close. Through Rothko, Avery met Barnett Newman and Adolph Gottlieb, as well as Marsden Hartley. Soon after the exhibition at the Opportunity Gallery, the Averys began summering in Gloucester with Rothko, Gottlieb, and Newman. In 1932, his only child, March was born.
Avery's work was in high demand during the late 1920s through the 1940s. He won numerous awards and his works began to be acquired by collectors such as Duncan Phillips and Albert Barnes. Avery was given a few one man shows and had his work featured in many prominent galleries. By the 1930s Avery had developed his signature style. He is known for paintings where forms are flattened and large areas of bright color are applied.
In 1952, Avery traveled to Europe for the first time and visited London, Paris, and the French Rivera. Avery had a heart attack in 1960 (his second) and was almost totally incapacitated. He was honored with two retrospective exhibitions during this time, one at The Baltimore Museum of Art in 1952 and another at The Whitney Museum of American Art in 1960.
Milton Avery died on January 3, 1965 in New York City.