Henrietta M. Shore (1880-1963)
Henrietta M. Shore (1880-1963)
Henrietta M. Shore (1880-1963)
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Henrietta M. Shore (1880-1963)
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Property Sold to Benefit the Rady Children’s Hospital, San Diego
HENRIETTA M. SHORE (1880-1963)


HENRIETTA M. SHORE (1880-1963)
signed 'H Shore' (lower right)—signed 'H.M. Shore.' (on the overlap)—signed again three times (on the tacking edges)
oil on canvas
38 1⁄4 x 27 1⁄2 in. (97.2 x 69.9 cm.)
Painted circa 1922.
The artist.
Nicholas and Andrée Hollinrake, Toronto, Canada, by descent from the above.
Knowles Gallery, La Jolla California, acquired from the above, 1987.
Private collection, California, acquired from the above.
Gift to the present owner from the above.
New York, Ehrich Galleries, Paintings by Henrietta Shore, January 24-February 10, 1923, no. 32.
Worcester, Massachusetts, Worcester Art Museum, Exhibition of Paintings by Henrietta Shore, March 18-April 15, 1923, no. 25.
Monterey, California, Monterey Peninsula Museum of Art, Henrietta Shore: A Retrospective Exhibition 1900-1963, December 12, 1986-January 25, 1987, pp. 16, 67, no. 16.

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Tylee Abbott Vice President, Head of American Art

Lot Essay

In January 1923, Henrietta Shore debuted a brand new approach to her artwork in a solo exhibition at the Erich Galleries in New York, which included the present painting Unity in the section of “recent works.” A sharp departure from the realism of her teacher Robert Henri, Shore’s early 1920s explorations from her years in New York City were, as Roger Aiken describes, “extremely radical and simplified ‘semi-abstractions’ based only partially on nature and employing simple line and shape to achieve an effect of sonorous rhythm...these remarkable paintings represent a high point in Shore’s career, and ought to serve to establish her as an important figure in the history of American abstraction.” (Henrietta Shore, A Retrospective Exhibition: 1900-1963, exhibition catalogue, Monterey, California, 1986, pp. 16-17)

Shore’s 1923 exhibition generated tremendous critical acclaim—even more so than her contemporary Georgia O’Keeffe, who had a concurrent solo-show at the Anderson Galleries that winter. For example, a newspaper headline declared, “Miss Henrietta Shore in the Erich Gallery in New York is one of the sensational art shows of the season.” Critic Henry Tyrell acknowledged the similarities of these two female Modernists’ abstracted reflections on nature, writing, “There is something profoundly moving, strangely suggestive of the mystic source of our being and of creation’s dawn…they have in common a certain eager freshness which would seem to mark them as debutants or disciples in a new and fascinating field of aesthetic discovery.” (as quoted in Henrietta Shore, A Retrospective Exhibition: 1900-1963, p. 19)

Indeed, in Unity, Shore creates a mesmerizing form in blacks and grays that at once feels earthen and organic, yet also otherworldly and unknown, particularly when placed against a green color field without further context. As in O’Keeffe’s work, it is as if Shore has magnified and abstracted a budding leaf to such an extent that the viewer is forced to look at the beauty of nature with completely new eyes. The title of Unity adds another layer of meaning, seeming to also relate Shore’s ambiguous shapes to Asian concepts of yin-yang and cosmic forces of balance. Susan Landauer explains, “Much like Arthur Dove, Shore seems to have incorporated the teachings of Eastern philosophy with a study of Theosophy to construct an abstract aesthetic that distilled the universal 'spirit harmony' or 'life rhythm' underlying natural things." (Independent Spirits: Women Painters of the American West, 1890-1945, Berkeley, California, 1995, p. 27)

As demonstrated by Unity, Shore was one of the most original and forward-looking American Modernist painters of the early twentieth century. A visionary, “‘Critics repeatedly deemed her an artist with unlimited potential, certain one day to attain world-wide recognition. Arthur Miller, long-time critic for the Los Angeles Times, asserted in 1927 that ‘Miss Shore is unquestionably one of the most important living painters of this century, as strong as any on the west coast for a synthesis of intellectual, technical and aesthetic qualities in her latest work.’” (Henrietta Shore, A Retrospective Exhibition: 1900-1963, p. 9)

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