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Henrietta Shore

American
(1880–1963)

Two Worlds
circa 1921

Oil on canvas
33.5 x 29.5 in. (85.09 x 74.93 cm)
Gift of the Marie Eccles Caine Foundation
1988.91

An early California modernist, Henrietta Shore created accomplished works of art in a career that spanned the first half of the twentieth century. During a sojourn in New York in the early 1920s, she developed a series of what she termed “semi-abstractions,” to which her remarkable painting, Two Worlds, belongs. Described in a 1923 art review as “an abstraction with an astronomical basis,” this piece clearly refers to the cosmos. Its luminous orbs, seemingly moons, command a celestial field, defined by concentric rings of ethereal blue that issue from a light nuclear core and become progressively deeper in tone and expansive in reach as they approach the picture’s frame.

Yet even as it takes the natural world as its touchstone, the painting presents a wondrous vision of pure invention, springing from the artist’s imagination and an aim to express the mysteries of nature in modern pictorial form. Although reserved in tone, it conveys a feeling of transcendent yearning, a desire to access heavenly realms beyond mortal reach, an aspiration that would lead scientists decades later to fly spacecraft to the moon.

Ultimately, though, Shore’s image is a poetic one, rich in allusions, as the moon has long been associated with women and their cycles of fertility. As such, it is significant that Shore—a woman working in a profession dominated by men—chose to assert her place in that realm through this iconic symbol of womanhood. She even doubles it, thereby augmenting its power, and further presents a peaked projection that rises suggestively toward the ovular form above as if wishing to access its life-giving light. Subtly, Shore deploys these evocative forms in a way that suggests male and female procreative forces coming together to bring new life—and hence new worlds—magically into being.

Susan Ehrlich


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