Leon Dabo

Artist Biography

During the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, Leon Dabo became known for his mysterious, tonalist landscape scenes, which were considered unique due to a progressive combination of French aestheticism and American scenery.

By Chelsea DeLay

I. Biography
II. Chronology
III. Collections
IV. Exhibitions
V. Memberships
VI. Suggested Resources
VII. Notes

I. Biography

Born July 9, 1865, Leon Dabo was the eldest son of Ignace Scott Dabo, an artist, collector, and avid art enthusiast. In 1870, shortly after Leon’s fifth birthday, the entire Dabo family left France and immigrated to the United States.[1] From an early age, both Dabo and his younger brother, Theodore, were exposed to their father’s collection of art, consisting of works by Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863), Gustav Courbet (1819–1877), and James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903).[2]

It was clear that both Dabo sons inherited their father’s passion for the arts; Leon’s initial preference for architectural decoration inspired him to accept a job at the New York design firm J & R Lamb in 1883.[3] While working, Dabo was placed under the guidance of painter and muralist John LaFarge (1835–1910). As a landscape artist who favored working en plein air, LaFarge can be credited for injecting Dabo’s painting style with the modern aesthetic notion of creating “art for art’s sake.” During the 1880s, a trend seen in American Impressionism mandated that any American artist seeking success took an obligatory tour of Europe, and in 1885, Dabo followed suit. Armed with recommendation letters from LaFarge, Dabo set off for France in pursuit of painterly success.

While abroad, Dabo attended the Académie Julian, École des Arts Decoratifs, and the École des Beaux Arts, where his style briefly bowed to formalist ideals and Romanticism.[4] The intricate design techniques used in Italian murals and mosaics lured Dabo to Florence and Rome, but the final weeks of his tour were spent working as an apprentice in the London studio of James Whistler. The time Dabo spent in London was divided between observing Whistler’s technique and developing his own; nevertheless, out of all of Whistler’s American followers, Dabo’s style was remembered as the most imitative.[5]

The 1890s not only brought Dabo stateside, but also introduced the first of several large mural commissions for the artist in New York. Dabo toyed with the idea of submitting his work to major exhibitions towards the end of the decade, but his paintings were repeatedly turned down. The smarting memory of rejection was an egotistical blow that Dabo was reluctant to forget at the turn of the century, but 1905 proved to be more than placating: Dabo had five works accepted at the National Arts Club exhibition, which marked the onset of an uninterrupted, sixteen year stretch where Dabo was included in one hundred and one public exhibitions, with more than seven hundred canvases shown at sixty-four venues, including thirty-five solo exhibitions.[6]

As his career thrived, Dabo became actively involved in the New York City art scene: he took part in the 1910 Exhibition of Independent Artists, was a founding member of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors in 1912, and went on to help organize the famous 1913 Armory Show. During World War I, his career was briefly put on hold while he enlisted in the armed forces and spent one year in the service of General Hersey.[7]

Dabo and his wife were living in Paris when World War II broke out, and were unable to leave France before Hitler’s army invaded. Already bogged down by old age and over 300 paintings, the couple was further hindered in their escape because Dabo’s wife was Jewish.[8] Nonetheless, Dabo, his wife, and his life’s works were smuggled out of the country, crossed through Spain and Portugal, and arrived intact to New York in 1941. Having heard of the artist’s struggles abroad, as well as the plights that other French people faced at the hands of Nazi occupation, the staff at Feragil Gallery decided to put on an exhibit to draw attention to the issue; the subject was addressed in a solo exhibition of Dabo’s work entitled When I Last Saw France.

A unique synthesis of color and subtle emotion can be seen in Dabo’s impressive oeuvre. He continued to work up until his death in 1960, and produced a myriad of tonalist paintings that were respected for their mysterious and atmospheric qualities. Contemporary critics recognized his unique abilities: “Dabo avoids the garish hours of the day and all obvious aspects of things; He never wearies of trying to catch on the wing of those elusive, impalpable, fleeting subtleties of color and light which give one the sense of spirituality so characteristic of his best work.”[9]

II. Chronology

1865 Born in France on July 9
1870 The Dabo family immigrated to the United States
1883 Hired by New York architectural firm J & R Lamb, where he met John La Farge
1885–92 Traveled to Europe, studied at the Académie Julian, École des Arts Decoratifs, and the École des Beaux Arts
1892–1904 Returned to New York, where he received several mural commissions
1905–21 Included in one hundred and one public exhibitions, with more than seven hundred canvases shown in sixty-four venues, including thirty-five solo exhibitions
1909 Awarded the William T. Evans Prize by the National Arts Club
1910 Participated in the 1910 Exhibition of Independent Artists
1912 Founded the Association of American Painters and Sculptors
1913 Involved in organizing the 1913 Armory Show in New York
1918 Enlisted in the army, served one year on the staff of General Hersey
1934 Inducted into the French Legion of Honor as a Chevalier
Nominated for Associate Membership to the National Academy
1940 Escaped from Nazi-occupied Paris with his wife, successfully smuggled his paintings back to New York
1944 Elected Academician by the National Academy
1948–51 Returned to France to paint the countryside
1960 Passed away in New York City on November 7

III. Collections

Arbuckle Institute, NY
Art Institute of Chicago, IL
Ball State University Museum of Art, IN
Baltimore Museum of Art, NY
Boston Museum of Fine Arts, MA
Chapel at St. John's Seminary, Brooklyn, NY, mural
Chapel of Jesuit Retreat House, Monroe, NY, mural
Church of St. Mary, Long Island City, NY, mural
Church of the Nativity, Manhattan, NY, mural
Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, NY
Delaware Art Museum, DE
Detroit Institute of Arts, MI
Federal Reserve Board, Fine Arts Program, Washington, DC
Figge Art Museum, IA
Florence Griswold Museum, Lyme Historical Society, CT
Flower Memorial Library, Watertown, NY, mural
Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, MA
Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, NY
High Museum of Art, GA
Holy Cross Church, Brooklyn, NY, mural
Hunterian Museum, University of Glasglow, Scotland
Imperial Museum of Tokyo, Japan
John H. Vanderpoel Art Association, IL
Long Island Museum of American Art, NY
Louvre Museum, France
Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester, NY
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
Milwaukee Art Museum, WI
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, MN
Modern Mart Museum of Fort Worth, TX
Montclair Art Museum, NJ
Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, MA
Musée Avignon, France
Musée d’Orsay, France
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, France
Museum of Art, Algeria
Muskegon Museum of Art, MI
National Academy of Design Museum, NY
National Arts Club, NY
National Gallery of Canada, Canada
New Jersey State Museum, NJ
New Orleans Museum of Art, LA
Newark Museum, NJ
Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, TX
Poland Spring Museum of Art, ME
Portland Town Club, OR
Reading Public Museum, PA
Riverside Museum, NY
Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, MA
Sacred Heart, Bloomfield, NJ, mural
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC
Springfield Art Association, IL
St. Benedict Joseph Labre, Richmond Hill, NY, mural
St. John the Baptist Church, Brooklyn, NY, mural
St. John's Church, Utica, NY, mural
St. John's Seminary, Brooklyn, NY, mural
St. Louis Art Association, MO
St. Paul the Apostle, New York, NY, mural
St. Paul’s, Brooklyn, NY, mural
St. Stephen's Church, Brooklyn, NY, mural
State Capitol Building , Harrisburg, PA, mural
Swarthmore College, PA
Swope Art Museum, IN
Temple Israel, Brooklyn, NY, mural
The Frick Collection, NY
Toledo Museum of Art, OH
Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site, AL
Tweed Museum of Art, University of Minnesota, MN
University of Michigan Museum of Art, MI
Wright Museum of Art, Beloit College, WI

IV. Exhibitions (+ solo exhibitions)

1901 National Academy of Design, NY
1905 +National Arts Club
1906 +Modern Gallery, NY
Art Institute of Chicago, IL
+Anderson Art Gallery, IL
+Blanchard Gallery, CA
+National Arts Club, NY
1907 +A.R. Kohlmann’s Gallery, IN
+The New Gallery, IL
+Poland Spring Art Gallery, ME
+Fritz Gurlitt Gallery, Berlin, Germany
1908 +Fritz Gurlitt Gallery, Berlin Germany
Allied Arts Association Ltd., London, England, Inaugural Exhibition
+Groupil Gallery, London, England
+MacDowell Club, NY
+Emil Richter Galleries, Dresden, Germany
1909 National Arts Club, NY
+Muncie Art Associations, IN
+Saginaw Art Association, SC
1910 National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Exhibition of Independent Artists, NY
+Reinhardt Galleries, IL
American Watercolor Society, NY
+Bruno Cassirer Gallery, Berlin, Germany
1911 +Walker Gallery, Montreal, Canada
+Otto Fukushima, Elite Art Rooms, NY
+MacDowell Club, NY
The Initial Exhibition of the Pastellists, NY
Carnegie International Annual Exhibition, PA
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, PA
1912 +Powell Art Gallery, NY
+Folsom Galleries, NY
+Cottier Art Gallery, NY
+Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
+Detroit Publishing Co., NY
1913 Galleria d’Arte, Florence, Italy
The Armory Show, NY
1915 Panama-Pacific International Exhibition, CA
1917 +Groupil Galleries, NY
+Neighborhood Club, Brooklyn Heights, NY
1918 +Art Institute of Chicago, IL
1920 Plymouth Institute, NY
1923 +National Arts Club, NY
1926 Department of Fine Arts, Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition, PA
1927 +Neighborhood Club, Brooklyn Heights, NY
1928 Grand Central Art Galleries, NY
1931 +Ferargil Galleries, NY
1933 +Knoedler Galleries
1935 Studio Guild Gallery, NY
1938 Salon d’Automne, Paris, France
Société National des Beaux-Arts, Paris, France, gold medal
Société de Amis des Arts, Versailles, France, silver medal
1941 +Ferargil Galleries, NY
1951 Musée Granet, Aix-en-Provence, France
1961 National Academy of Design, NY
1962 +Graham Gallery, NY, Retrospective
1963 +University of Michigan Museum of Art, MI, Retrospective
1964 +Davis Galleries, NY
1965 +Hotel de l’Abbaye, Talloirse, France
1967 +Graham gallery, NY
1972 M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, CA
1982 The Grand Central Art Galleries, NY
1987 Hirschl & Adler Galleries, NY
1988 The Armory Show, NY, 75th Anniversary
1997 Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
1999 +D. Wigmore Fine Art, Inc., NY, Retrospective
2002 Foundation de l’Hermitage, Switzerland
2003 High Museum of Art, GA
2012 +Sullivan Goss, CA

V. Memberships

Allied Artists Association, England
Association of American Painters and Sculptors, NY, founding member, President
Brooklyn Society of Artists, NY
Hopkin Club of Detroit, MI
Legion of Honor, France
Les Amis des Arts, France
Les Merilles, France
National Academy of Design, NY, Associate Member, 1934; Academician, 1944
National Arts Club, NY, life member
National Society of Mural Painters, NY
New York Historical Society, NY
Poetry Society of America, NY
Royal Society of Arts and Sciences, London
Salon d’Automne, France
Salon Nationale des Beaux Arts, France
School of Arts League, NY
Société des Amis du Louvre, France
The Independents, NY
The Pastellists, NY, Inaugural President
Three Arts Council, OH

VI. Suggested Resources

Falk, Peter H. “Leon Dabo.” In Who Was Who in American Art, 808. Madison, Connecticut: Sound View Press, 1999.
Kueffner, Louise M. “Mysticism in Painting: Leon Dabo.” The Sewanee Review 22 (January 1914: 100.
Von Ende, Amelia. “The Art of Leon and Theodore Scott Dabo.” Brush and Pencil 17 (January 1906): 9. Accessed June 25, 2012. www.jstor.org/stable/25503937.

VII. Notes

1. While earlier publications imply that Dabo was born in Detroit, Michigan to French parents, more recent sources support that he was born abroad.
2. Amelia Von Ende “The Art of Leon and Theodore Scott Dabo,” Brush and Pencil 17 (January 1906): 9, accessed June 25, 2012, www.jstor.org/stable/25503937.
3. The Drawings of Leon Dabo (Santa Barbara: Sullivan Goss, LTD., 2012), 3.
4. Ibid, 10.
5. Richard J. Boyle, American Impressionism (Boston: New York Graphic Society, 1974), 68.
6. The Drawings of Leon Dabo, 4.
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid, 5.
9. Louise M. Kueffner “Mysticism in Painting: Leon Dabo,” The Sewanee Review 22 (January 1914): 100.

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