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Arthur Garfield Dove (1880-1946)

Written by Brett Nelson

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Posted on October 24 2019

Arthur Dove was an early American modernist. He was the first American abstract painter. he often used a wide range of media in unconventional ways to produce his abstract paintings and landscapes.

One example of this is " Me and the Moon" (1937), one of his best works. He also did a series of collage works in the 1920s that is well known. His experimental techniques in "Tanks" (1938) are on display at the Boston museum of fine art.

 

Dove was a member of a wealthy New York family. His parents were English. His father, a successful businessman, expected him to be wealthy. Dove enjoyed farm life, painting, baseball and taking piano lessons as a youth. He graduated from Cornell University in 1903. His illustrations for the college yearbook brought life to whatever they depicted.

 

After graduation, Dove became a successful illustrator for "Harper's" and "The Saturday Evening Post." When he did not enter the profession his Ivy League degree allowed him, however, his parents were disapointed. Dove moved to Paris in 1907 with his first wife. While there, he learned the styles of French artists like Matisse.

 

After 1909, Dove moved back to the United States and began to make a living farming and fishing. His son William was born that same year. he also met Alfred Stieglitz, who allowed him to show his artwork in his galleries. Stieglitz shared Dove's belief that art should embody spiritual values.

As a result of this meeting, Dove produced what came to be known as the first American abstract paintings. According to Dove, these paintings captured the essence of a scene from nature.

His last representative work showed in 1910. At his first one man show in 1912, all of his work was among the first abstract American paintings.

 

Pastels are among the combinations of media Dove used. His "Ten Commandments" (1912) are well known and among his first abstract works. he made many pastels on paper, like "Nature Symbolized" and "Reefs." (1924) His most famous collage works include "The critic" and "The Intellectual" (1925). He also used Tempera and oil in one of his most famous works. "Tanks" (1938) according to one commentator, the tanks seem to blend into the scenery while maintaining their form.

 

From 1924 until 1930, Dove lived on a houseboat with artist Helen Torr. he left his wife for her after 25 years of marriage. His wife refused to divorce him or let him see his son until she died eight years later. Dove and Torr were married in 1932. They exhibited together in 1933. Dove's painting "Seven Americans" gained him major newspaper coverage and returned him to the national spotlight as an artist. He went on to inspire other abstract painters who shared his love of pure color.

 

Dove's biggest supporter was Duncan Phillips, founder of the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C. He was convinced that abstract art was not only a style, but a process. He agreed to pay Dove a monthly fee for first choice of his works. In 1937, Phillips purchased "goin' Fishin'" for a record $2000. This was the most Dove had been paid for his work. Phillips also purchased "Huntington Harbor 1."

 

Dove's later work with Helen Torr reflected their love of Long Island's North Shore. Dove also bagan working with his son. Now reunited, they developed a technique for silvering frames. In 1938, just as Dove began some of his best work, he began to develop health problems. He would live quietly in Centerport, NY and continue to paint in spite of them. He even had Helen help him paint after a stroke.

He showed his works yearly at Stieglitz' galleries yearly from 1912 until 1946.He suffered a final heart attack in 1946. After Helen Torr's death in1967, their works were hung together at the museum of modern art.

View Arthur Garfield Dove Gallery