They Put the ‘Art’ in Partnering

Milton Avery’s “Blue Trees” (1945) at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Conn., the first retrospective exhibition of this American modernist painter in the United States in 40 years. Credit… Milton Avery Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.

Sally Michel (1902-2003) was 17 years his junior when she married Milton Avery (1885-1965) in 1926. A painter herself, she provided income as a freelance illustrator for 30 years while he painted full time. He never had a studio, and worked in their living room.

In Milton Avery’s “Bus Ride” (1941), on view at Yares Art, the Avery family is pictured on an Amsterdam Avenue bus. Credit… Milton Avery Trust and Yares Art/Artist Rights Society (ARS), NY.

The view that Avery worked for decades to achieve a final blast of brilliance seems as antediluvian as the idea that he worked alone in a style that overpowered his wife’s work. First of all, they were more or less joined at the hip, working side by side, looking at and talking about art, for 40 years. As other art historians have suggested, it may be impossible to think of their style as anything but collaborative, especially since Michel was an illustrator, adept at abbreviating forms.

Sally Michel’s “Mother and Son” (1975) at D. Wigmore Fine Art. Her paintings, our critic says, “have a sharpness of composition and a boldness of color that gives them their own sense of weight, tension and emotional force.” Credit… Milton Avery Trust/Artist Rights Society (ARS), NY.

(Roberta Smith, “A Singular American Painter and His Perennially Disregarded Wife,” NYTimes, 5-12-22)

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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2 Responses to They Put the ‘Art’ in Partnering

  1. Laugh with me. I did a quick google to see where I could see Avery/Michel paintings in the UK. I found this quote on Artsy: “It is nearly impossible to talk about the work of American artist Sally Michel Avery without also discussing that of her husband, Milton Avery, with whom she shared a studio for decades.”
    I had just looked at the RA’s upcoming Avery exhibition: . They have managed quite easily not to mention Michel!

    Liked by 2 people

    • JMN says:

      Hah! Funny and ironic. I think it’s an illustration of the phrase “res ipsa loquitur” — the thing speaks for itself, confirming Roberta Smith’s “antediluvian” epithet. If Smith is to be trusted, the “studio” the Averys “shared for decades” was the living room of their small apartment. She, like he, mostly worked from home in her illustrator capacity, helping raise their child named March. Thanks for commenting, OA.

      Liked by 2 people

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