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Surf and Bird

Morris Graves ( ca. 1940 )

Collection item 0844
  • Period Twentieth-Century
  • Materials Opaque watercolor on paper
  • Object Number 0844
  • Dimensions 26 3/8 x 29 3/4 in.; 66.9925 x 75.565 cm.
  • Credit Line Acquired 1942; © Morris Graves Foundation.

Duncan Phillips was first exposed to the art of Morris Graves in 1942 when he visited an exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Response to the paintings by the unknown artist from Seattle was overwhelmingly positive, and Phillips echoed the views of many art critics: “Graves was the sensation of the show. When we discovered Graves, and he became a national celebrity, it was the immediate impact of an original genius.”

Surf and Bird reflects Graves’s fascination with birds and illustrates the variety of means at his disposal for depicting them. According to Graves, the bird is often a symbol of solitude, as strikingly conveyed in his paintings of single birds surrounded by the sea or by darkness. The birds almost appear human in their expression of emotion. Duncan Phillips recognized this quality, observing, “Graves is seeking… to symbolize the fate of man through the fate of birds.”