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Triptych with red, yellow, and blue color blocks and diagonal blocky lines.
Triptych with red, yellow, and blue color blocks and diagonal blocky lines.

Object of the Week – “After Scarlatti”

Mary Henry’s body of work mirrors the evolution of modernist ideas in American art in the 20th century. She was primarily interested in the clean, sharp lines and geometry of non-objective abstraction, images constructed solely from shapes and colors rather than derived from a physical object. Her hard-edged compositions, painted in strong colors, are carefully balanced and deceptively simple. In After Scarlatti she worked with black, white, and the primary colors to create a work reflective of music by composer Giuseppe Domenico Scarlatti, who is known today for his 555 keyboard sonatas. The individual panels suggest the movements of a symphony and the narrow strips of white and black within the color fields the keys of a piano, while the bright colors and arrangement of shapes suggest the lilting, complex compositions of the baroque composer. 

Triptych with red, yellow, and blue color blocks and diagonal blocky lines.
Mary Henry. “After Scarlatti,” 1990. Acrylic on canvas, 47 ¾ x 143 ¼ in. (121.3 x 363.9 cm). Tacoma Art Museum. Gift of the artist.

Mary Henry received her bachelor of fine arts from the California School of Arts and Crafts (now California College of the Arts) in 1934. After attending a lecture by Bauhaus artist László Moholy-Nagy (1894–1946), she went to study with him at the Institute of Design, Chicago, receiving her master of arts in the late 1940s. Her career as a professional artist stretched over eight decades and she exhibited widely. Henry’s work was the subject of a major retrospective in 2007 at the Wright Exhibition Space, Seattle, and in 2009 at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts, Idaho. In 2001 she received a Flintridge Foundation Award for Visual Artists, and in 2006 she received the Twining Humber Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement from Artist Trust. Her work can be found in museums throughout the Northwest and at the IIT Institute of Design, Chicago.