The Quiet Man of American Modernism

From the outside, Arthur Dove’s life appeared out of kilter, but his inner vision shone through

Life was never easy for American modernist Arthur Dove. Born in upstate New York in 1880, he was cut off by his father, a self-made contractor, when he gave up studying law to pursue art. He chose abstraction when the taste in this country ran strongly toward representational art. And he was barred for years from seeing his only child. But, recognizing his talent, a succession of mentors and patrons, including the avant-garde New York dealer Alfred Stieglitz, gave Dove enough support to keep making art. He was most at home on a farm or living aboard a sailboat, where he could observe the sun, moon, water and other natural phenomena, transforming what he saw into visual reveries. Among his masterpieces is Fog Horns of 1929, in which the haunting sound of the foghorns is evoked by overlapping concentric rings that seem to float above the water.

For the first time in 20 years, a major exhibition of the paintings of Arthur Dove has been mounted. Arthur Dove: A Retrospective Exhibition, co-organized by the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, Massachusetts, and the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., will travel to three museums after closing at the Phillips on January 4, 1998. "We want to show Dove as a premier abstractionist," says Elizabeth Hutton Turner, one of the show's curators. "He was the most radical modernist of his generation, and blazed a trail that was later picked up by the New York School."

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