In this painting, many figures are visible inside a shell’s surface, juxtaposed with a stark landscape to provide a sort of imaginative dream-like scene

John Atherton

American, 1900-1952

Shell (Surrealist Landscape), c. 1942

Oil on canvas

29 x 23 inches

Signed lower left

John Atherton attained success as both a commercial and fine artist throughout his career and was an important figure in the American Surrealist movement.  He remarked in the 1943 exhibition catalogue for Alfred H. Barr Jr.’s show American Realists and Magic Realists at the Museum of Modern Art in New York: “It is much better for me to paint pictures than to write about them. If one asks what the paintings mean, I can only reply that it is impossible to add with words to what has already been said with paint. … In the end the painting must be felt, not analyzed.”

Atherton’s impressive draftsmanship and meticulous technique are immediately recognized in Shell (Surrealist Landscape). The many figures visible inside the shell’s surface are juxtaposed with the stark landscape to provide the sort of imaginative dream-like scene that defined Atherton’s career. This work marks the major rediscovery of a surrealist Atherton masterpiece, unseen by the public for decades.

In this painting, many figures are visible inside a shell’s surface, juxtaposed with a stark landscape to provide a sort of imaginative dream-like scene