Eye on the Collection: Early Abstraction
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This object is a member of the following groups (click any group name to view all objects in that group):Exhibitions: In and Out of Place
Exhibitions: Learning to Look: The Addison at 90
In 1930, as Arthur Dove's painting began to settle into what would become the distinguishing, formal attributes of his late work, he wrote to Samuel Kootz, a writer and art dealer then compiling a volume titled <i>Modem American Painters</i>:
<i>There was a long period of searching for something in color which I then called "condition of light." It applied to all objects in nature, flowers, trees, people, apples, cows. These all have their certain condition of light, which establishes them to the eye, to each other, and to the understanding.
To understand them clearly, go to nature, or to the Museum of Natural History and see the butterflies. Each has its own orange, blue, black; white, yellow, brown, green and black, all carefully chosen to fit the character of the life going on in that individual entity</i>.<sup>1</sup>
While Dove's paintings were pervaded with luminosity from the beginning, by the time <i>Autumn</i> was painted in 1935, his yearning for the "condition of light" had mounted into an almost exclusive preoccupation. The organic forms that he distilled from the natural world into the increasingly reductivist abstractions of this period were all rendered in glowing colors that radiated a certain warmth and sensuality. Dove is generally credited as being the first artist to produce an abstract painting (his work of 1910 predates Kandinsky's nonobjective compositions by a year or so); however, he recoiled from the conscious, high-minded efforts of European artists to take such a breakthrough into the area of intellectual speculation. He arrived at abstraction through emotion, not by design or deliberation. Like his friend Georgia O'Keeffe, Dove was basically after recording a "sensation" or feeling, rather than theorizing about style and its ongoing permutations.
To many critics in the 1920s and the 1930s, Dove's intuitive response to nature and the sensual, frequently sexualized, imagery in his work were read as an embodiment of masculinity. Paul Rosenfeld, in particular, observed:
<i>Dove's compositions are built up of abstract shapes that suggest the body's semi-consciousness of itself: of intestine-like shapes, shapes of fern-foetuses in May, animal udder-forms, forms in nature which doubtlessly had a fascination for a mind unafraid of its own consciousness. For Dove is very directly the man in painting</i>.<sup>2</sup>
Elizabeth McCausland perpetuated this kind of interpretation, noting that Dove's work "lacks the fashionable note, the stylish touch .... He sees life as an epic drama, a great Nature myth, a fertility symbol."<sup>3</sup> During the mid-1930s, the period in which <i>Autumn</i> was painted, the exuberant, tumescent, natural forms that had always defined the visual language of his work became quite phallic in content. The suggestive, heaving landscapes of earlier compositions, such as <i><a href="http://accessaddison.andover.edu/Obj4378">Drawing</a></i>, 1913 (also in the collection of the Addison Gallery), were simplified into bold, sometimes elongated shapes pulsating with color. <i>Autumn</i> evokes the seething rhythm of nature, at the peak of its activity, through an abstraction of bulging landscape forms barely contained by dominant black outlines.
Dove, as Rosenfeld reveals, was cognizant of, perhaps even cultivated, the sexual implications of his work. In a letter of 1930 to his friend and lifelong dealer, Alfred Stieglitz, he wrote, "The bursting of a phallic symbol into white light may be the thing we all need."<sup>4</sup> While this recommendation issued in part from what Dove perceived were the limitations of a prevailing, but alienated, art criticism that inscribed art solely from the vantage point of pictorial analysis and reason (the antipode of emotion), the idea was one that drove the entire corpus of his work. As O'Keeffe noted, "Dove is the only American painter who is of the earth . . . . Where I come from the earth means everything. Life depends on it. You pick it up and feel it in your hands."<sup>5</sup>
Debra Bricker Balken, <i>Addison Gallery of American Art: 65 Years, A Selective Catalogue</i> (Andover, Massachusetts: Addison Gallery of American Art, 1996), p. 359
1. Arthur Dove to Samuel Kootz, quoted in Kootz, <i>Modem American Painters</i> (New York: Brewer and Warren, 1930), unpaginated.
2. Paul Rosenfeld, "Arthur G. Dove," in <i>Port of New York</i> (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1924), p. 170.
3. Elizabeth McCausland, "Dove's Oils, Watercolors Now at an American Place," <i>Springfield (Massachusetts) Union and Republican</i> 22 (April 1934), sec. E, p. 6.
4. Dove to Alfred Stieglitz, 4 December 1930, in <i>Dear Stieglitz, Dear Dove</i>, ed. Ann Lee Morgan (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1988), p. 202.
5. Quoted in Barbara Haskell, <i>Arthur Dove</i> (San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Art, 1974), p. 118.
This object was included in the following exhibitions:Edward W. Root Bequest, Addison Gallery of American Art, 11/1/1957 - 11/18/1957
Loan to Haverhill Public Library, Haverhill Public Library, 12/10/1957 - 1/6/1958
Loan to Bradford Junior College, Bradford Junior College, 3/14/1960 - 4/11/1960
Contemporary Arts in America, Putney School, 4/28/1962 - 5/8/1962
The American Still Life 1879-1979, Addison Gallery of American Art, 10/26/1979 - 12/12/1979
The Split-Up: The Beginning of a New Art in America, Addison Gallery of American Art, 3/13/1981 - 4/12/1981
Edward W. Root, Collector and Teacher, Fred L. Emerson Gallery, 10/2/1982 - 11/14/1982
Landscapes from the Permanent Collection, Addison Gallery of American Art, 4/1/1983 - 5/1/1983
American Masterworks, Addison Gallery of American Art, 10/5/1990 - 12/16/1990
American Abstraction at the Addison, Addison Gallery of American Art, 4/18/1991 - 7/31/1991
American Abstraction from the Addison Gallery of American Art, American Federation of Arts, 2/27/1993 - 12/4/1994
Andover Alumni Collectors, Addison Gallery of American Art, 4/29/1995 - 7/30/1995
Masterworks from the Permanent Collection, Addison Gallery of American Art, 9/5/1995 - 12/17/1995
Addison Gallery of American Art: 65 Years, Addison Gallery of American Art, 4/13/1996 - 7/31/1996
Arthur Dove: A Retrospective Exhibition, The Phillips Collection, 9/20/1997 - 10/4/1998
Framework: American Pictures and Frames, Addison Gallery of American Art, 1/16/1999 - 4/4/1999
Milk and Eggs: the Revival of Tempera Painting in America, 1930-1950, Brandywine River Museum of the Tri-County Conservancy, 3/9/2002 - 5/19/2002
Conversations: A Collection in Dialogue, Addison Gallery of American Art, 1/7/2003 - 7/31/2003
Working from Nature, Addison Gallery of American Art, 9/19/2003 - 1/4/2004
Eye on the Collection: Early Abstraction, Addison Gallery of American Art, 6/10/2005 - 7/31/2005
Toward Abstraction, Addison Gallery of American Art, 12/23/2005 - 3/26/2006
75 Years of Giving, Addison Gallery of American Art, 4/11/2006 - 7/31/2006
Coming of Age: American Art, 1850s to 1950s, American Federation of Arts, 9/9/2006 - 9/7/2009
Mix and Match: A Conversation between Paintings and Works on Paper, Addison Gallery of American Art, 1/23/2007 - 4/8/2007
So Long, Farewell, Addison Gallery of American Art, 4/7/2007 - 7/31/2007
Inside, Outside, Upstairs, Downstairs: The Addison Anew, Addison Gallery of American Art, 9/7/2010 - 3/27/2011
Eye on the Collection, Addison Gallery of American Art, 1/19/2013 - 3/10/2013
Searching for the Real, Addison Gallery of American Art, 5/30/2015 - 7/31/2015
In Tandem: Inspirations and Collaborations, Addison Gallery of American Art, 9/12/2015 - 1/3/2016
Selections from the Permanent Collection, Addison Gallery of American Art, 4/30/2016 - 7/31/2016
Eye on the Collection, Addison Gallery of American Art, 9/1/2016 - 3/19/2017
Eye on the Collection, Addison Gallery of American Art, 9/1/2017 - 7/31/2018
In and Out of Place , Addison Gallery of American Art, 2/16/2019 - 7/31/2019
Currents/Crosscurrents: American Art, 1850–1950, Addison Gallery of American Art, 10/16/2020 - 3/7/2021
Learning to Look: The Addison at 90, Addison Gallery of American Art, 5/8/2021 - 2/6/2022
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