Published: April 29, 2003
NEW YORK CITY – James Graham & Sons has opened the first retrospective of works by the American modernist Helen Torr (1886-1967), which will continue through June 8.
“Helen Torr: Out of Shadows, A Retrospective” features more than 60 paintings and works on paper lent from important public and private collections, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. James Graham & Sons has represented the estate of Helen Torr since 1970; this is the artist’s fourth exhibition with the gallery.
Born in the Philadelphia area and trained at Drexel Institute and at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Helen Torr was one of the few women artists associated with Alfred Stieglitz’s circle. Torr’s painting career began in earnest after she met Arthur Dove around 1919. Both artists left their respective spouses and spent their first years together living on a boat and sailing around Long Island Sound.
Many of Torr’s subjects from this period, such as the paintings “Oyster Stakes,” 1930, and “Drawing for Houses on a Barge,” 1929, are stylized depictions of water and shore. In 1924, the couple moored in Halesite and remained nine years, ultimately living as caretakers at the Ketewomoke Yacht Club. Torr’s work from this period is notable for its larger scale and emotive power such as the work “White Cloud (Light House),” 1932. In 1927 Torr’s work was featured in an exhibition at the Opportunity Gallery. In 1933, her work was included in a show at Stieglitz’s An American Place.
In 1933, Torr and Dove relocated to Geneva, N.Y., to settle Dove’s family’s estate. Though she disliked upstate New York, this was a productive period for Torr. She studied and experimented with different media and eventually began working in tempera. Her Geneva subjects embrace the outdoors, depicting such pastoral scenes as “Grazing Horse, Green Cabbages (Grazing Horses, Green Clouds),” a tempera work on paper from 1936. In 1938, the artists moved back to Long Island and purchased a tiny cottage on the water in Centerport. Dove’s health was poor, and aside from a few drawings of her ailing husband, Torr ceased her own work to care for him. After Dove’s death in 1946, Torr remained in the cottage but never worked again.
Torr’s paintings, the great majority of which are still lifes and landscapes, are intimate in scale and evidence her interest in flat rhythmic design. Among her most compelling works are a series of charcoal drawings featured in this exhibition, for instance, “Hill Forms, Buildings, and On Board Ship,” circa 1924-29.
The gallery is at 1014 Madison Avenue. For information, 212-535-5767.
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