Early Abstract and Modernist Painting

Patrick Henry Bruce (1881–1936)

Peinture, 1917–18

Oil and graphite on canvas, 25 5/8 x 32 1/8 in. (65.1 x 81.6 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1999.21

The American expatriate Patrick Henry Bruce was a forerunner of abstract painting in the early twentieth century. Known for his streamlined still lifes, he explored the boundary between representation and abstraction. Peinture is considered one of the earliest in a series of tabletop arrangements of everyday items reduced to their most elemental forms. Geometric, sharply delineated shapes are set against four horizontal bands of black, turquoise, and lavender. While a straw and glass can be tentatively identified, other forms are mere fragments or generic volumes defined by colored shapes that appear to be simultaneously on top of the surface and to recede into the background. Peinture reflects the influence of Paul Cézanne (1839–1906) and Henri Matisse (1869–1954), yet is unlike either artist’s work at that time. While hinting at Bruce’s longstanding attraction to still-life painting, this precisely geometric work also reflects his journey toward pure abstraction.

Learn more about this painting on the Terra Foundation website.