Arthur Dove (1880–1946)
Early Modernist and One of the First Americans to Create Abstract Art
By Amy Spencer
Driven by ideas of nature and purity, Dove developed an innovative language of abstraction that has come to represent a defining step in the history of Modern American art.
VII. Suggested Resources
Arthur Garfield Dove, an early twentieth-century Modernist from New York, is distinguished as being one of America’s first abstract painters. As part of Alfred Stieglitz's circle of artists, that also included John Marin and Georgia O'Keeffe, Dove began his career exhibiting to immediate critical acclaim at Stieglitz’s gallery 291. Reviews appearing as early as 1912 were fascinated with Dove’s unique depictions of “temperamental moods”1 and “ideas undreamed of and emotions unimagined”.2 Today Dove is celebrated for pioneering Modernism in America.
Dove’s paintings and drawings are extensively collected and exhibited by the most important museums of Modern art, including The Museum of Modern Art, The National Gallery of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. On account of Dove’s seminal place in American art history, his works perform well at auction. In 2003, an artist record was set when an oil painting typical of Dove’s dynamic later-style, Snowstorm (1935), sold at auction for $1,240,000. This record-breaking price significantly exceeded the pre-auction estimate that was between $700,000 and $900,000.3
Dove was born in Canandaigua, New York in 1880, and grew up in the nearby town of Geneva. The artist went to Cornell University to study law, but quickly shifted to art and illustration. While at university, Dove’s skill at drawing and caricature granted him the opportunity to illustrate the Cornell yearbook. Dove graduated in 1904 and, with his new wife, moved to New York City where he began a successful career as an illustrator for magazines such as Collier's, McClure's, The Saturday Evening Post, and The Illustrated Sporting News.
In 1907, Dove travelled to Paris where he met Max Weber, Alfred Maurer, Jo Davidson, and other American artists living abroad. While in Europe, Dove was introduced to new painting styles, and he became particularly interested in the Fauve works of Henri Matisse. Dove exhibited his artwork at the Salon d'Automne (Autumn Salon) in 1908 and 1909. (The Salon d’Automne was an exhibition organized by Georges Rouault, André Derain, Albert Marquet, and Matisse as a reaction to the conservative policies of the official Paris Salon.) The influence of European and expatriate contemporary artists would prove to have a significant and lasting impression on Dove. Returning to America in 1909, Dove left the world of illustration, and moved to a self-sustaining farm in Westport, Connecticut where he devoted himself to a career as an artist. At this time, Maurer wrote to his friend, artist and gallerist, Alfred Stieglitz to arrange an introduction with Dove.
Stieglitz ran the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, which came to be known as gallery 291, on Fifth Avenue in New York City. 291 was the first gallery to introduce American audiences to the avant-garde art of Europe, exhibiting works by artists such as Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, Auguste Rodin, and Henri Matisse. Stieglitz’s magazine Camera Work was the first in America to translate and publish Wassily Kandinsky’s writing on abstraction. As well as promoting European Modernism, Stieglitz also championed a burgeoning group of American painters, including Marin, O’Keeffe, and Marsden Hartley.
Dove brought his paintings to 291 in 1910 and Stieglitz included them in the group show titled ‘Younger American Painters’. In 1912, Stieglitz awarded Dove his first solo exhibition, which included a series of abstract pastels, The Ten Commandments. While based on a representational biblical theme, the works in this series exhibit an undulating quality and amorphic natural forms that mark Dove’s first breakthrough into abstraction.
In 1914, Jerome Eddy included Dove’s new work in his book, Cubists and Post-Impressionism. While promoting Modern art in America, Eddy interviewed Dove on his radical ideas. Dove explained his breakthrough; “I no longer observed in the old way, and, not only began to think subjectively, but also to remember certain sensations purely through their form and color”.4 Dove’s early works typically depict fragmented landscapes in a mix of gritty and brilliant colors. While his debt to European Modernism is obvious, Dove is also unique in his focus on purity and connectedness. Dove sought to use abstraction, not to distance art from nature, but rather to renew the viewer’s experience of reality. In other words, his abstract forms represent the essence beneath the physical exterior of his subjects.
During the early 1920s, after three years of financial hardship when he did virtually no painting, Dove left his marriage and moved onto a houseboat with a new companion, artist Helen ‘Reds’ Torr. Dove and Torr lived on their yawl for nine years, spending winters in Halesite, Long Island. This new lifestyle helped Dove's artwork flourish again as he depicted the abstract rhythms of the sea and shore. Dove continued to work extensively in pastels, as this medium allowed stylistic innovations within the limited space of living on a houseboat. When stationed at Halesite, Dove would work these drawings into more elaborate oil paintings. In addition to drawing and painting, Dove also produced assemblages made of found materials. These groupings of unconventional materials reflect his seafaring lifestyle as he utilized the flotsam and jetsam of his ocean home to create some of his most daring work.
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Dove exhibited regularly at Stieglitz's new galleries, Intimate Gallery and An American Place, which focused on a few selected artists: Dove, Hartley, Marin, and O’Keeffe. During this period the philanthropist Duncan Phillips had become Stieglitz’s major client, frequently purchasing works for his Phillips Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. Phillips became particularly enamored with Dove’s art as he considered Dove, with his freethinking and naturalist lifestyle, to be akin to Walt Whitman or Henry David Thoreau; Phillips became Dove’s ongoing-patron for the next two decades.
In 1933, Dove’s mother died and he returned to live in Geneva with Torr. Due to estate difficulties and the Depression, Dove experienced further financial difficulties, for although his work received significant critical attention, it was not very commercially successful. Phillips and Dove came to an arrangement whereby Phillips would provide Dove with a monthly stipend. In return, Phillips had first refusal on all of Dove’s new artwork. As a result, the Phillips Collection museum today houses the world’s largest collection of Dove’s work. Interestingly, Dove only met his patron once in person at an opening at An American Place in 1936.
While on a trip to New York in 1938, Dove suddenly grew ill. For the remainder of his life, health problems – Bright’s disease and a kidney disorder – would force him to spend long periods housebound in a wheelchair at his new home in Centreport, Long Island. While virtually an invalid, the last years of Dove’s life were highly productive as he created new works for annual solo exhibitions. Due to his physical limitations, Dove worked mostly in less strenuous media of drawing and watercolor. These late period works are considered some of Dove’s best as he embraces pure abstraction as the culmination of his style and approach to experimental painting.
Dove suffered a stroke and died in November, 1946, just four months after his lifelong mentor Stieglitz died of a heart attack.
Dove's importance to American art has been recognized with more than a dozen retrospective exhibitions at major museums. His paintings, hailed as extraordinary in a beginning of the 20th century, are now firmly established catalysts for the development of Modern art in America. Responding to Dove’s 1997 retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art the critic Robert Hughes stated, “If there was ever an artist in the American grain, it was Arthur Dove, with his obstinate home-made lyricism, his complete authenticity and his desire to be modern on local--not Euro-imitative--terms.”5
1880 Born in Canandaigua, New York
Grows up in Geneva, New York
1903 Graduates from Cornell University, majoring in art and illustration
Moves to New York City to be an artist, working as a magazine illustrator to support himself
1904 Marries Florence Dorsey
1908 Travels to Paris where he meets Max Weber, Alfred Maurer, Jo Davidson, and other American artists living abroad
Studies European painting, notably the Fauves
Exhibits twice at the Salon d'Automne (Autumn Salon)
1909 Returns to America and dedicates himself fulltime to being an artist
Develops ideas for expressing the essence of landscapes and organic forms
Moves to Westport, Connecticut
1910 Meets artist and gallerist Alfred Stieglitz
Dove debuts at gallery 291 in a group show, ‘Younger American Painters’
Son, William Dove, is born
1912 First solo exhibition at Stieglitz’s 291, includes pastel abstractions, The Ten Commandments
1919 Due to financial hardships refrains from painting for the next three years
1921 Divorces Florence Dorsey and begins relationship with artist Helen ‘Reds’ Torr
1922 Buys a houseboat, Mona, on which he lives with Torr for the next nine years, spending winters at Halesite, Long Island
1925 Stieglitz opens The Intimate Gallery
1926 The philanthropist Duncan Phillips visits the The Intimate Gallery and purchases his first Dove paintings, Golden Storm and Waterfall
1927 Has solo show at The Intimate Gallery (also again in 1929)
1929 Stieglitz’s opens An American Place, where Dove has solo shows nearly every year until his death
1930 Phillips becomes Dove’s patron, providing him with a monthly stipend of fifty dollars in exchange for first refusal on all of Dove’s new artwork
1933 Moves back to Geneva, New York following the death of his mother
Experiences another period of financial hardship
1934 Phillips suggests Dove work for the Public Works Art Project, Dove refuses
Phillips increases stipend to seventy-five dollars a month
1936 Phillips meets Dove in person for the first and only time
1937 First retrospective is held at the Phillips Memorial Museum, it consists of fifty-seven works mostly borrowed from Stieglitz
1938 Moves to an abandoned shorefront post office in Centreport, Long Island
While on a trip to New York becomes suddenly ill
Despite being housebound and in a wheelchair continues creating art, mostly in less strenuous mediums of watercolor and drawing
1940s Produces new work for seven solo exhibitions, embracing pure abstraction as the culmination of his style and approach to experimental painting
Phillips increases stipend to two-hundred dollars a month
1946 Suffers a stroke and dies in November, just four months after Stieglitz died of a heart attack
Addison Gallery of American Art, MA
Amon Carter Museum, TX
Art Institute of Chicago, IL
Brooklyn Museum, NY
Butler Institute of American Art, OH
Carnegie Museum of Art, PA
Cleveland Museum of Art, OH
Columbus Museum of Art, OH
Corcoran Gallery of Art, DC
Currier Museum of Art, NH
Dallas Museum of Art, TX
Harvard University Art Museum, MA
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, DC
Indianapolis Museum of Art, IN
Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University, NY
Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, MO
Maier Museum of Art at Randolph College, VA
Memorial Art Gallery at the University of Rochester, NY
Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, TN
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
Milwaukee Art Museum, WI
Montclair Art Museum, NJ
Museum of Fine Arts, MA
Museum of Modern Art, NY
National Gallery of Art, DC
Orange County Museum of Art, CA
Palmer Museum of Art at Pennsylvania State College, PA
Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA
Phillips Collection, DC
Ringling Museum of Art, FL
St. Louis Art Museum, MO
San Diego Museum of Art, CA
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA
Sheldon Art Gallery, NE
Smithsonian Museum of American Art, DC
Tacoma Art Museum, WA
Terra Foundation for American Art, IL
Whitney Museum of American Art, NY
Wichita Art Museum, KS
1908 Exhibits in the Salon d'Automne (Autumn Salon), Paris, France (also in 1909)
1910 Younger American Painters, Gallery 291, New York, NY
1912 First solo exhibition, Gallery 291
1916 Forum Exhibition of Modern American Painters, The Anderson Galleries, New York, NY
1925 Seven Americans, The Anderson Galleries
1926 Eleven Americans, Phillips Memorial Gallery, Washington, DC
1927 The Intimate Gallery, New York, NY (also in 1929)
An Exhibition of Expressionistic Painters from the Experiment Station of the Phillips Memorial Gallery, Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD
1930 Twelve Americans, Phillips Memorial Gallery
Marin, Dove, and Others, Phillips Memorial Gallery
1931 Twentieth Century Lyricism, Phillips Memorial Gallery
1932 American and European Abstractions, Phillips Memorial Gallery
An American Place, New York, NY (also in 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1945, and 1946)
1933 First Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Painters, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
Duel exhibition with Helen ‘Reds’ Torr, An American Place
1937 First retrospective, Phillips Memorial Museum
Beginnings and Landmarks ‘291’, An American Place
1941 The Functions of Color, Phillips Memorial Museum
1944 The American Paintings of the Phillips Collection, Phillips Memorial Collection
1958 Arthur Dove Retrospective Exhibition, Art Galleries of the University of California, CA
Arthur Dove, Whitney Museum of American Art
1968 Arthur Dove, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
1974 Arthur Dove, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA (travelled to Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY; St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, MO; Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL; Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, IA; and the Whitney Museum of American Art)
1981 Arthur Dove and Duncan Phillips: Artist and Patron, Phillips Collection (formally the Phillips Memorial Gallery)
1997 Arthur Dove: A Retrospective, Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, MA (travelled to the Phillips Collection, Whitney Museum of American Art, and Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA)
1998 Arthur Dove: Mixing Media, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
2002 Routes Toward Modernism – American Painting 1870-1950, Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, TX
2003 Debating American Modernism, Des Moines Art Center
2004 Sons & Lumières: Une histoire du son dans l'art du XXe siècle, Centre Pompidou - Musée National d´Art Moderne, Paris
2006 American Moderns 1900-1950, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MN
In the American Grain: Dove, Hartley, Marin, O'Keeffe, and Stieglitz, Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, NH
2007 Arthur Dove: A Retrospective, Phillips Collection (toured to the Addison Gallery of American Art)
2009 Dove/O’Keefe: Circles of Influence, The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA
Webster, H. Effa, “Artist Dove Paints Rhythms of Color”, March 15, 1912, Chicago Examiner, Arthur and Helen Torr Dove papers, 1905-1975, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.
“Art and Artists”, March 16, 1912, Chicago Evening Post, Arthur and Helen Torr Dove papers, 1905-1975, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.
Sotheby’s, American Paintings, New York, December 3, 2003, Sale N07950, Lot 64.
Eddy, Jerome, Cubists and Post-Impressionism, Chicago, A.C. McClurg, 1914, Dove quoted in Haskell appendix.
Hughes, Robert, “Embedded in Nature”, Time Magazine, December 22, 1997.
VII. Suggested Resources
Balken, Debra Bricker, Arthur Dove: A Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997.
DePietro, Anne Cohen, Arthur Dove & Helen Torr: The Huntington Years, exhibition catalogue, Huntington: Heckscher Museum, 1989.
Harnsberger, R. Scott, Four artists of the Stieglitz Circle: a sourcebook on Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, and Max Weber, Westport: Greenwood Press, 2002.
Kirschner, Melanie, Arthur Dove: watercolors and pastels, New York: George Braziller, 1998.
Morgan, Ann Lee, Arthur Dove: life and work, with a catalogue raisonné, Newark: University of Delaware Press; London: Associated University Presses, 1984.
Newman, Sasha M., Arthur Dove and Duncan Phillips, artist and patron; Washington, DC: Phillips Collection; New York: George Braziller, 1981.
Turner, Elizabeth Hutton, In the American grain: Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, Georgia O'Keeffe, and, Alfred Stieglitz: the Stieglitz Circle at the Phillips Collection, Washington, DC: Counterpoint, 1995.