Henrietta Shore

1880-1963

Henrietta Shore was a metaphysical semi-abstract painter and lithographer, whose oil paintings revealed a colorful, expressionistic style. Her semi-abstract still life paintings are known for their natural undertones with line and shape creating rhythmic effects. The titles of her works suggested organic themes, basic life forces, or cosmic landscapes.

Born in Toronto, Canada where she first studied art, Shore continued studying at the Art Students League in New York and at a fine art school in London. When she was in her twenties, her work was exhibited in Toronto, Paris, and London.

She moved to California in 1913 where she co-founded the Society of Modern Artists in Los Angeles. In 1921, she became an American citizen and three years later was one of 25 women chosen to travel to Paris to represent American women in art.

In 1923, Shore and Georgia O’Keefe exhibited back-to-back in two New York galleries, and the two shows were reviewed together. Both artists and their works received negative comments revealing the gender bias of the critics. Shore returned to Los Angeles later that year with an established East Coast reputation.

In 1927, Shore met photographer Edward Weston, and in the late 1920s she moved to Carmel California following Weston to the Monterey Peninsula where she became his companion. The beauty of this place provided her with inspiration. She and Weston shared a close friendship and creative collaboration. He admired her drawings and paintings of rocks and sea shells and used them as subjects for his photographs. His 1927 “Nautilus,” inspired by Shore’s use of shells, became one of his most famous images.

Weston inspired Shore to travel to Mexico where she was introduced to lithography. Mexico influenced the subject matter of her work as she painted Mexican women in traditional dress, doing traditional work. She made lithographs of indigenous Mexican women such as “Mexican Mother” and “Water Carrier.” Her “Women of Oaxaca” shows a line of women in Tehuantepec clothing carrying water jars on their heads.

Mexico also influenced her drawings of sentient desert flora. Her painting “Floripondios” showed such an influence. In this work and in other nature studies her organic shapes were simplified, flattened, and made more decorative by rhythmic contour lines.

Her 1930 oil and color pencil painting “Clivia” shows a viewpoint that is tilted and skyward, with no soil or pot that the flower could grow in. She drew a pattern of outlines in pencil and filled it in with applied oil paint that resembled baked enamel. She distilled the flowers into hard, idealized forms.

Because of her isolation and her slow and exacting method of painting, she had very little money. In her fifties she received six public commissions through the W.P.A. Several years later well-meaning acquaintances committed her to a mental health facility where she died in obscurity with her work forgotten. However, her work is now being recognized and exhibited, and she is receiving the public recognition which eluded her in her later years. Her work has been shown in the Huntington Museum and is in the permanent collections of LACMA and the Oakland Museum of Art.

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