Early Abstract and Modernist Painting

Helen Torr (1886–1967)

Purple and Green Leaves, 1927

Oil on copper mounted on board, 20 1/4 x 15 1/4 in. (51.4 x 38.7 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1999.142

During the 1920s, Helen Torr participated in the development of a distinctly American brand of modernism along with fellow artists and friends such as her husband, Arthur Dove, and Georgia O’Keeffe. Typical of Torr’s flattened still-life paintings, Purple and Green Leaves, a simplified arrangement of tall, layered fronds, verges on the abstract. The image is singularly modern, but because Torr depicted the leaves as if framed in an arched recess space, it also suggests a medieval stained glass window. The glowing yellow and deep purple tints of the foliage, animated by faceted rays of color, lend the picture a mystical resonance. Likely featured in an exhibition of women artists that O’Keeffe organized at the Opportunity Gallery in New York City in 1927, the work demonstrates Torr’s sensitivity to her natural environment and her efforts to reveal its invisible, transcendent essence.

Learn more about this painting on the Terra Foundation website. This work is also part of the interactive ArtNav platform. Click on the image above to discover more.