Collection 1880s–1940s


Nature Symbolized

New on view



Agnes Pelton. The Fountains. 1926. Oil on canvas, 36 1/8 × 32" (91.8 × 81.3 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Joan H. Tisch (by exchange)
  • MoMA, Floor 5, 509 The David Geffen Wing

“What we call modern should go smack to nature as a source,” said Arthur Dove, one of many artists from the Americas making bold innovations inspired by nature during the early decades of the 20th century. Applying the formal techniques and stylistic features of European avant-gardes to distinctively homegrown subjects resulted in a fresh approach to modernism in which the natural environment appeared as central yet was often abstracted.

Across painting, drawing, photography, and film, artists flattened foliage into pure pattern, conveyed water as styled swirl, and crystalized light into tangible matter. Such experiments in symbolizing nature at times also served to bolster national identity, by binding it to the character of regional landscapes, and to fuel spiritual inquiry, with suggestions of a universal design underlying all natural phenomena.

Organized by Samantha Friedman, Curator, Department of Drawings and Prints, Lydia Mullin, Manager, Collection Galleries, and Rachel Remick, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Curatorial Affairs.

15 works online


Installation images

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