National Museum of Women in the Arts
Sally Michel Avery
July 1905 - January 09 2003
Milton Avery, Sally Avery with Still Life, 1926. Oil on cotton. 30 x 25 inches (76 x 64 cm). Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC, USA. Gift of Louis and Annette Kaufman.
Place of Birth:
New York
Phonetic Spelling:
SAL-ee (M-EYE)-kuhl AY-vree
Minority status:
White non-Hispanic
Work Type/Media:
Drawings and prints, Painting
Artistic Role(s):
Illustrator, Landscape Painter, Painter, Portraitist, Still life Painter
Artist's Biography:
Sally Michel Avery met her future husband, modernist painter Milton Avery, in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where she spent her summers painting in 1924. Milton, twenty years Sally’s senior, followed Sally to New York where they married in 1926. For the next forty years, Sally and Milton were inseparable, sharing a studio space and acting as each other’s model, muse, critic, collaborator, and avid supporter until Milton’s death in 1965. Sally was the primary financial supporter for her family through her illustrations for many publications until the 1950s when Milton’s work started gaining more attention in the art market. While her husband painted full-time and received the public spotlight, Sally rarely showed her work, painting only in her free time and busily managed Milton’s career and their family.

The Avery family spent most of their summer vacations traveling throughout North America and Europe, often with their close friends Mark Rothko, Adolph Gottlieb, and Barnett Newman. At these vacation spots, usually among the artist colonies along the New England Coast, Sally painted landscapes, seascapes, portraits, animals, and still lifes. Sally and Milton painted countless portraits of each other and their daughter March, usually in relaxed settings during lazy afternoons. The pair slowly developed the “Avery style” which depicts familiar surroundings in a modern, semi-abstract style. The bright Fauvist colors, combined with the simplistic expressionistic forms, create a lighthearted warmth and intimacy. Hints of Tonalism and American folk art are also evident in the Averys’ high-end modernism. While Milton’s paintings catered to the art market, Sally painted only for personal fulfillment, creating more personal, small-scale images. Her faceless figures, flattened landscapes, and roughly painted surfaces capture the natural joy of her subjects. Her paintings capture the charm of daily life in a naïve, caricatured style.

Sally continued to paint after Milton’s death. Several highly successful retrospectives of her work have been held in recent decades.

Other Occupation(s):
Place(s) of Residence:
New York
Where Trained/Schools:
The Art Students League of New York, New York, NY, USA (ca. 1920)
Related Visual Artists:
wife of Milton Avery mother of March Avery friend of Stuart Davis friend of Marsden Hartley friend of Mark Rothko friend of Adolf Gottlieb friend of Barnett Newman influenced by Henri Matisse
Fellowships, grants and awards:
Fellowship, The MacDowell Colony, Peterborough, NH, USA (1957) Residency, Yaddo, Saratoga Springs, NY, USA (1956)
Earliest exhibition:
Sid Deutsch Gallery, New York, NY, USA (1950)
NMWA exhibition(s):
Preserving the Past, Securing the Future: Donations of Art, 1987-1997
Artist retrospective(s):
Sally Michel: Outdoor Pastime, Katharina Rich Perlow Gallery, New York, NY, USA (2006) Sally Michel: The Other Avery, The University of Iowa Museum of Art, Iowa City, IA, USA (1987)
Related places
New York (died at)