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Summer Orchard

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Summer Orchard

Artist: Arthur Dove (American, 1880 - 1946)

Date: 1937
Medium: Wax emulsion, tempera, and gesso on linen
Dimensions:
Overall: 17 1/4 × 23 1/2 × 1 7/8in. (43.8 × 59.7 × 4.8cm)
Signed: Bottom center (green paint): 'Dove'
Credit Line: Edward W. Root Bequest
Object number: 57.135
Text Entries

Arthur Dove made his mark in early twentieth-century American art through his resolute commitment to abstraction. He was one of the first painters of our century, whether European or American, to commit himself so avidly and so brilliantly to the promise of abstract art. But unlike so many painters who chose this direction in the second decade of the twentieth century, and then gave up abstraction, Dove pursued this mode of painting until his death. True, he occasionally produced works that are representational or that merely hint at subject matter, but his great contribution was in the realm of abstract painting.

Dove started as an illustrator, but during a trip to France in 1908-9, he gave himself completely to painting. In France, he acquainted himself with modern developments, which he incorporated into his own emerging style. Upon returning to New York, he became part of the circle of Alfred Stieglitz, the distinguished photographer and promoter of modern art, and through Stieglitz’s encouragement and influence Dove blossomed as an abstract artist. In 1910 (or possibly 1910—11) Dove created a remarkable set of six abstractions, in oil, that show him to be a pathfinder in the realm of abstract art. These paintings reflect European influences, to be sure, but they display an inventiveness in handling abstract form that cannot be traced to one European source or another.

In 1911-12 Dove produced an even more adventurous series of paintings, some of them so abstract that subject matter is virtually undetectable. These were called the “Ten Commandments” and were shown in New York and Chicago in 1912. This series, like the group of six that preceded them, placed Dove at the forefront of international abstract painting.

Dove’s paintings were often far ahead of their time and, as a result, he enjoyed few sales. Yet he persistently clung to the promise of abstraction and worked along in his own way, in spite of economic deprivation. He moved about from one place to another, trying both to paint and earn a living by means outside of painting. By 1937, the date of Summer Orchard, the United States was still reeling from the Depression and all its attendant economic hardships. Dove, too, was struggling to stay alive; yet from a painting like this one would hardly guess at his personal difficulties.

 Summer Orchard is a lively, affirmative work, filled with the energies of nature, to which Dove remained close throughout his career. Characteristically, Dove’s shapes are organic, pulsing with life, hinting of the mysterious powers of growth. The painting, of course, is a translation of his experience of nature in abstract terms, using forms that are painted with confidence and fluidity, the mark of an artist who was completely experienced and confident in his medium.

Dove’s basing of an abstract painting on organic shapes, as in Summer Orchard, forecasts in a very special way the biomorphic paintings of the Abstract Expressionists, particularly Baziotes and Stamos. The similarities between the biomorphic abstractions of this later generation and those by Dove in the 1930s are not accidental. As Robert Goldwater has pointed out, certain of the Abstract Expressionists looked to Dove, more than any other abstract painter of the preceding generation, as a model and source.(1) Understandably, the work of the later artists is different from Dove’s in certain important respects, but there is a similar devotion to energetic amoeba-like forms softly interacting with each other.

As an original member of the Stieglitz circle, Dove was one of the few artists of his generation who kept abstraction alive from the 1920s through the 1940s. He never lost faith in the appropriateness of his style and continued to paint with unfiagging dedication. Summer Orchard is an excellent example, and a typical one, of Dove’s mature capabilities as an abstract artist. It shows him at the height of his power and skill as a painter who could capture the vital impulses of nature in a visual language that is satisfying to return to again and again.

 

Notes

1. Similar paintings from this period appear in Barbara Haskell, Ralston Crawford, exhibition catalog (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1985), figs. 20, 32, 36, and 37.

Copyright
Estate of Arthur G. Dove.