Agnes Lawrence Pelton (1881–1961) was a modernist painter who was born in Germany and moved to the United States as a child. She studied art in the United States and Europe. She made portraits of Pueblo Native Americans, desert landscapes and still lifes. Pelton's work evolved through at least three distinct themes: her early "Imaginative Paintings", art of the American Southwest people and landscape, and abstract art that reflected her spiritual beliefs.
Agnes Lawrence Pelton was born in Stuttgart, Germany to American parents, William Halsey Pelton and Florence Pelton. Her maternal grandfather was American abolitionist Theodore Tilton and her paternal grandfather was a plantation owner in Louisiana. She lived in Rotterdam, the Netherlands from 1882 to 1884 and in Basel, Switzerland from 1884 to 1888. Agnes and her mother moved to her mother's family home in Brooklyn after her father’s death in 1890 of a morphine overdose. Florence Pelton studied music at the Stuttgart Conservatory of Music and operated the Pelton School of Music in Brooklyn for 30 years. She also gave lessons in French and German. Due to her poor health, Agnes was educated at home and her mother and Arthur Whiting taught her piano.
Pelton studied at the Pratt Institute from 1895 to 1900, graduating with fellow Modernist artist Max Weber. She continued her studies with one of her instructors, Arthur Wesley Dow, in Ipswich, Massachusetts. She studied landscape and was Dow's assistant at his summer school, where he taught Modernism, inspired by Chinese and Japanese art. Biographer Tiska Blankenship said that "Dow emphasized structure, spirit, imagination, creation, and the nonnaturalistic use of color, a technique he taught using Japanese prints to demonstrate space relations and the appropriate use of light and dark masses... Dow's influence was critical to Pelton's development of abstractions based on interior, spiritual values." Dow also taught Georgia O'Keeffe. Pelton took summer classes from William Langson Lathrop in 1907. Pelton studied in Italy in 1910 and 1911, taking life drawing lessons and studying Italian painters at the British Academy in Rome, and also studied with Hamilton Easter Field, who was another of her Pratt instructors.
Her work was exhibited in Ogunquit, Maine at Field's studio in 1912. Based upon her work at that show, Walt Kuhn invited her to participate in the 1913 Armory Show, where two of her paintings, Stone Age and Vine Wood were exhibited. What Pelton called "Imaginative Paintings" were influenced by the work of Arthur B. Davies and depicted the effect of natural light. She made these paintings from 1911 to 1917.
Pelton's work changed significantly following a visit to Mabel Dodge Luhan in Taos, New Mexico in 1919. She painted in oil and used pastels to create realistic portraits and desert landscapes and her works were exhibited in Santa Fe at the School of American Research. Pelton visited Pueblo Native Americans in the American southwest.
Pelton had her studios in Greenwich Village in New York City until 1921 when her mother died. She moved to Long Island and lived in a Hayground windmill that had been converted to a house. She also traveled to Hawaii, Beirut, Syria, Georgia and California.
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