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Arts of North America

Art created in North America includes objects made by native cultures of the present-day United States and Canada; paintings and decorative arts produced during colonial times; 18th- and 19th-century masterpieces; and the work of contemporary artists and photographers.

© Aperture Foundation, Inc., Paul Strand Archive
American, 1890 - 1976
Ceramic and Fruit
Platinum print

9 5/8 x 12 11/16 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Museum purchase with funds provided by the Brown Foundation Accessions Endowment Fund

Arts of North America

A monument to early Modernism, Paul Strand's Ceramic and Fruit demonstrates an abandonment of Pictorialism, characterized by a romantic and painterly style, in favor of carefully rendered Abstraction.

After studying with photographer and social reformer Lewis Hine at the Ethical Culture School in New York, Strand traveled throughout Europe. Upon his return to the United States, Strand compiled a portfolio that garnered the 26-year-old a one-man show with photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz. Strand's work was of particular and timely interest to Stieglitz, who had been seeking photographic divergence from the then-dominant style, Pictorialism. Stieglitz sought images that could keep pace with the 20th-century experience, and Strand's work fit the bill.

In the summer of 1916, Strand produced a series of compositional studies that pushed the medium of photography into artistic terrain that had been considered too complex to master with a camera. Influenced by the work of Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, and other Cubist artists, Strand worked closely with still lifes, removing subjects from their normal surroundings and shaping novel approaches to perspective and composition.

To view specific works by Strand in the collection, contact the museum's Works on Paper Study Center for an appointment.

Through confronting issues of space, dimensionality, and perspective, Strand's photographic still lifes, along with modern views of the city by Stieglitz and other photographers, created a brand-new Modernist aesthetic within photography. Strand employed what he called "straight photographic methods" to "clearly see the limitations and at the same time the potential qualities of his medium." This balance became the essence of the 20th-century American Modernist movement. Strand's early still lifes are richly printed and exceptionally rare—he made 14 in total, and only one print of Ceramic and Fruit. Strand's innovative approach to still life is an important testament to modern art.