Arthur Dove - Biography and Legacy
Canandaigua, New York
Long Island, New York
Biography of Arthur Dove
Arthur Dove was born on August 2, 1880, in Canandaigua, New York, to parents of English descent; his father, a successful businessman, was a building contractor and brick manufacturer. As a child, Dove became friends with a neighbor, naturalist Newton Weatherby, who took him along on hunting, fishing, and camping excursions and encouraged Dove's lifelong fascination with nature. Weatherby was also an amateur artist who gave assorted scraps of canvas to Dove to paint on.
At his father's insistence, Dove matriculated at Cornell University as a prelaw student. He supplemented his tiresome law classes by enrolling in elective art classes. While at Cornell he was awarded the honor of illustrating the college's yearbook. Dove reached a compromise with his father by becoming a graphic illustrator, which was a lucrative profession. The artist relocated to New York City in 1903 and began his career as a freelance illustrator, which soon proved too conventional for his tastes. Within a few years, at the urging of fellow-illustrators John Sloan and George Luks, both founding members of the Ashcan School, Dove tried his hand at painting. In 1908, Dove and his first wife Florence sailed abroad for a 15-month sojourn, primarily painting in the south of France where he honed his craft. In Paris, Dove met American painters Alfred Maurer and Max Weber, also early modernists, and was exposed to the artistic innovations of Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Paul Cézanne. Dove's style at that time was Impressionistic, but he, as well as Maurer, strove to dilute Impressionism into larger areas of pure unsaturated color in the manner of the Fauvists.
In 1910, Dove was introduced to gallery-owner, photographer, and leading exponent of the avant-garde Alfred Stieglitz, and quickly became a member of Stieglitz's stable of modern American artists at his gallery known as "291". Of Stieglitz, Dove remarked he was "one who has done the most for art in America." From 1905 to 1917, the gallery was the center of New York modernists, a community of like-minded artists and critics looking to invigorate American art and culture. Subsequent galleries owned by Stieglitz followed after 291 and Dove exhibited at these as well. By 1910, Dove abandoned any suggestion of narrative and discarded any semblance of figure, setting, or even titles for his works. He did so because he thought "the forms should tell their own story." Dove sought to project the essence of objects by emphasizing structure and ridding the composition of all superfluous detail; he replaced bulk with pattern, heightened and modified color, and simplified contours. In 1912, he painted some of the initial non-representational works produced by an American with his Abstractions series. These ten pastels that he showed in his first one-man exhibition at 291 were simplified, stylized motifs, with signature circular and saw-tooth forms which interpenetrated and overlapped. Dove believed that objects including natural objects were not independent, isolated things, but rather, living forces. Georgia O'Keeffe once remarked that, "Dove is the only American painter who is of the earth.."
As the decades progressed, Dove was further influenced by Cubism, the expressionist work of Wassily Kandinsky, and importantly, the writings of French Philosopher Henri Bergson, who emphasized a mystical, rather than an analytic, approach to life and the world. In 1917, Dove ceased painting with oils and produced only pastels. He did not resume painting until 1921 after separating from his first wife, Florence, and moving to a houseboat with the painter Helen Torr (nicknamed Reds), whom he married in 1924 after the death of his first wife. Tragically, he was denied visitation to his son for many years.
During the 1920s, Dove also experimented with found materials, which he organized into innovative, humorous and, at times, almost representational assemblages and collages. Using these techniques and materials, he produced approximately 30 works between 1924 and 1930. Dove also experimented with new paint materials, such as hand-mixed pigment over a wax emulsion. He was interested in synesthesia, a psychological condition in which one type of stimulation evokes the sensation of another, as when the hearing of a sound produces the visualization of a color, a belief present in French Symbolist circles. Struggling financially, from 1930 onwards, he was supported by regular payments from Duncan Phillips - the founder of The Phillips Collection -- in return for a first selection of works at Dove's exhibitions. The two men -- artist and patron -- met only once. The Phillips Collection still holds the majority of Dove's work.
Late Years and Death
In his later works, Arthur Dove's tendency to observe his immediate surroundings and integrate their abstracted forms into his art prompted him to layer undulating forms and to work with a reduced palette, creating a sensuous, brushy surface. At this time, he and Reds lived on a houseboat bringing them in direct contact with power and beauty of nature. In some of his work of the 1940s, Dove drew upon the local landmarks and the turbulent coastline of his small town on Long Island, but then, came full circle to re-embrace nature and the abstract. Dove suffered a heart attack in 1939, which rendered him an invalid and compromised his ability to create. After his second heart attack and debilitating kidney disease, Reds - herself an artist - had to guide the brush for Dove when he was painting. The artist died in 1946. Reds never painted again after Dove's death; she died in 1967. In 1979, The Museum of Modern Art hung their work together for the first time. During the years between 1997 and 1998, the exhibition Arthur Dove: A Retrospective - the first comprehensive survey to consider his career since the 1970s - traveled nationally. In 2000, the Arthur Dove-HelenTorr Cottage, a tiny, one-room structure on Long Island, was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
The Legacy of Arthur Dove
Dove's death in 1946 and life's work were strongly overshadowed by the advent of Abstract Expressionism. Clement Greenberg, leading critic and fierce proponent of Jackson Pollock and the others, vehemently disliked the work of the Stieglitz Circle artists (with the exclusion of John Marin). In contrast to the post-1945 abstractionists, Dove was considered provincial and a minor talent. Regardless, the influence and fame of Dove, Georgia O'Keffee, John Marin, and others from the Stieglitz Circle continues to grow. Dove has been credited with indirectly influencing the first generation Abstract Expressionists, such as Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, and Mark Rothko, who placed similar emphasis on the artist's subjective experience of his surroundings and on the intrinsic emotional power of color and line. His attraction to the natural world remains a constant in American art.