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Art Break Agnes Pelton

Page history last edited by school.programsintern1@... 3 years, 4 months ago





Artist’s Name: Agnes Pelton (1881-1961)

Image of the work:

Nationality: American


Title of Work – Being

Date – 1926



Facts about the artist’s life: Pelton was born to American parents in Stuttgart, Germany and moved to Brooklyn with her mother after her father’s death when she was 9. At age 14 she began taking art classes at Pratt Institute, continuing to study with Arthur Wesley Dow as an adult. A trip to Italy in 1910 led to experimentation with non-traditional approaches to art.

In 1926 she moved to Long Island, NY seeking solitude and creating her first abstract works.

In the early 1930’s she visited Taos, NM and became a founding member of Raymond Jonson’s Transcendental Painting Group. About the same time, she moved to Cathedral City, CA where she studied Theosophy (a philosophy whose students seek direct knowledge of the mysteries of life and nature) and Agni Yoga (a practice which encourages seeking spiritual and moral guideposts and an inner fiery energy to promote the common good). She has been described as a poet of nature and a child of the new age. Her work is described in terms of land, light, the ecstatic and often featured floating orbs.

Pelton and Georgia O’Keefe were contemporaries (Pelton, 7 years older) and their lives and work shared many parallel elements. Both anticipated the first wave of modern art in 1910, painted in similar styles that were abstracted from nature and both embraced the New Mexico desert. Pelton however slipped into obscurity until a resurgence of interest in her work since the late 1990’s.


What influenced the artist’s work?

Pelton was also deeply influenced by literature, especially the Romantic poetry of Keats, Shelley, and Wordsworth. She believed that painting was a visual form of poetry. Wassily Kandinsky’s spiritual writings also influenced her. She agreed with Kandinsky view that painting was an embodiment of the vital impulse of life and that art came from the inner spirit but did not feel, as he did, that it was a struggle to bring it into the world. Pelton embraced the Transcendental Painting Group’s manifesto “to carry painting beyond the appearance of the physical world, through new concepts of space, color, light and design, to imaginative realms that are idealistic and spiritual.” 

The power and energy of nature was a source of inspiration as well.


Materials Used: Oil on Canvas

Creation Process: Painted



List critical information about this artist or work docents should know in giving tours:

  • Being is one of the first abstract paintings Pelton completed after renouncing realism for good in 1925.

  • Pelton was one of the few American women included in the Armory Show of 1913.

  • The work reflects the influences on her work – the natural world and its mysteries, imagination and (suggested by the title) the spiritual. The work contains elements of space and light as well as the floating orbs characteristic of her work.


How does this piece tie to theme of tour (Pushing the Envelope)?

Pelton was a modern art pioneer. Her work was included in the Armory Show of 1913. The initial purpose of the exhibition was to showcase progressive American art. With the inclusion of avant-garde European Art as well, the show jolted the public and the established American art scene. Marcel Du Champs “Nude Descending a Staircase” debuted at the show for example. It was said that American art was never the same following that seminal event. Pelton’s personal interests and beliefs were described as “new age”, a concept said to have developed in the 1970’s.


List some challenging, thought provoking open-ended questions which will engage tour members. The goals are to connect with people who might not normally visit a museum and care about this work.


  • (Before giving details or seeing label) Do you think this work was painted by a man or a woman?

  • Does the date of this work surprise you?

  • What do you think the artist had in mind while creating this work? What inspired the imagery? How does that relate to the title?

  • Now that you know what influenced the artist, do you think the work would look different if Pelton was painting it today? In what ways?

  • Be the Art Critic – how would you describe the artistic merits of this work? Do you like the work?


List the resources that were most helpful in researching the artist and the art work:

  • The Armory Show at 100 – Modernism and Revolution, catalogue produced for the 2013 exhibit at the New York Historical Society.

  • American Art Review “Cathedral City, Channeling Agnes Pelton” June 2013

  • The Armory Show of 1913 website: http://armory.nyhistory.org/about/

  • Crystal Bridges Museum of American website Art Women’s History Month: http://crystalbridges.org/blog/womens-history-month-agnes-pelton/

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