Arthur Dove, whose abstractions from nature would influence many younger American artists, was born in Canandaigua, New York, in 1880. Dove moved with his family in 1882 to Geneva, New York, and even as a child, began experimenting with painting. Following his parents’ wishes, he began pre-law study in 1901 at Cornell University. However, he enrolled in art courses as well, and after graduating in 1903, worked as an illustrator in New York. During an eighteen-month trip to Europe (1907-09), Dove met Max Weber and Alfred Maurer, and soon after his return to New York he met Alfred Stieglitz, who was to be his dealer and advisor for the rest of his life. In 1909 he moved to Westport, Connecticut, where he painted and kept a farm. In his first one-person exhibition, held at Stieglitz’s Gallery 291 in 1912, Dove established himself as one of America’s most prolific and inventive artists working with abstraction. Like other artists in Stieglitz’s circle, Dove sought to represent the unseen rhythms and nuances of his environment and to record personal interpretations of nature by reducing form to its purest essence. In 1917 he took a break from painting, resuming his career in 1921, the same year he left his wife and moved with his companion, Helen (“Reds”) Torr, to a houseboat on the Harlem River. From 1924 to 1933 they lived on their sailboat, on Huntington Harbor off of Long Island, except for the winter of 1928-29, when they served as caretakers of a waterside cottage in Connecticut. They were married in 1932 and moved to Geneva the following year to settle Dove’s family estate. Five years later, they returned to Long Island, purchasing a house in Centerport.
The paintings Dove created during the years he lived on a boat on the coast of Long Island (1924-1933), portray the boats, barges, and docks of Huntington Harbor as well as the effects of weather on the environment. Dove’s years on the family farm in Geneva (1933-38) are represented by paintings that in their rural imagery and earthy browns, moss greens, and muted ochres evoke the atmosphere of living off of the land. During his last decade, spent back in the Huntington Harbor area, at Centerport, Dove painted in a freshly abstract style of crisp, bright color and spatial experimentation.
Dove continued to paint abstractions until his death in 1946. The Phillips Collection possesses the world’s largest, most representative group of works by Dove. The unit includes thirty-three oils and wax emulsions on canvas, sixteen watercolors, two collages, one gouache, and two drawings.