Early Abstract and Modernist Painting

Joseph Stella (1877–1946)

Telegraph Poles with Buildings, 1917

Oil on canvas, 36 1/4 x 30 1/4 in. (92.1 x 76.8 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1999.139

Born in Italy, Joseph Stella immigrated to the United States in 1896. He produced works that combined lyrical sensibility with modernist themes and style, and soon became a leading figure in New York City’s avant-garde circles. Telegraph Poles with Buildings is among the earliest and most representational of a series of works he dedicated to industrial subjects and their brooding mystery. Dominating the composition, the crosslike telegraph pole at the center divides the scene vertically. Lines of wire, sharply edged buildings, and smokestacks complete the industrial vista, devoid of human presence. On the right, the structure’s stark geometry provides a strong contrast to the curls of smoke and clouds surrounding the factory. Including both abstract and representational elements, the painting captures the combination of awe, fascination, and even dread that the new industrial landscape inspired in Stella and his contemporaries.

Learn more about this painting on the Terra Foundation website.