Preston Dickinson (1891-1930)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more An American Place: The Barney A. Ebsworth Collection
Preston Dickinson (1891-1930)

The Artist's Table

Preston Dickinson (1891-1930)
The Artist's Table
signed 'P. Dickinson' (lower right)
oil and pencil on board
22 ½ x 14 ½ in. (57.2 x 36.8 cm.)
Painted circa 1925.
Private collection, Great Neck, New York.
Christie's, New York, 27 September 1985, lot 345, sold by the above.
Acquired by the late owner from the above.
A. Berman, "Christie's 19th and 20th Century American Art," Maine Antiques Digest, December 1985, pp. 14-15D, illustrated.
R.S. Harnsberger, Ten Precisionist Artists: Annotated Bibliographies, Westport, Connecticut, 1992, p. 160.
St. Louis, Missouri, St. Louis Art Museum; Honolulu, Hawaii, Honolulu Academy of Arts; Boston, Massachusetts, Museum of Fine Arts, The Ebsworth Collection: American Modernism 1911-1947, November 20, 1987-June 5, 1988, pp. 80-81, 202, no. 18, illustrated.
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art; Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Twentieth-Century American Art: The Ebsworth Collection, March 5-November 12, 2000, pp. 87-89, 281, no. 15, illustrated.
Chicago, Illinois, Art Institute of Chicago; Ft. Worth, Texas, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture and Cuisine, November 12, 2013-May 18, 2014, pp. 129-30, 223, no. 10, illustrated.
Special notice

On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.

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Lot Essay

Born in New York City’s Greenwich Village, Preston Dickinson studied at the Art Students’ League under William Merritt Chase before embarking on a formative four-year trip to Paris in 1910. Spending time at the École des Beaux-Arts and the Académie Julian, Dickinson notably exhibited at the 1912 Salon des Indépendants alongside such revolutionary works as Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending the Staircase, three Improvisations by Wassily Kandinsky and Juan Gris’s Hommage à Picasso. Upon his return to the New York art scene in 1914, Dickinson incorporated elements of the latter artist’s work into his own unique form of Cubist-influenced Precisionism, as exemplified by The Artist’s Table.

Dickinson’s body of work largely concentrated on the angular geometric simplicity to be found within industrial landscapes, most notably the Harlem River. However, like fellow Precisionist artists Charles Sheeler and Charles Demuth, Dickinson also applied his attention to detail and perspective to the subject of interiors and still lifes, in which he often found even more experimental opportunities. Ruth Cloudman explains, “Dickinson brings to the still-life theme many of the stylistic devices of his industrial scenes and takes certain of their abstract tendencies a step further… Dickinson flattens the already shallow space with a hard-edged faceting of forms, extensive use of transparent planes breaking up the picture surface and creating ambiguous relationships between objects… A sense of movement in the picture comes in part from the fluctuating light and shadow and shifting perspectives, but perhaps more from the rhythmical joining of the contours of objects” (R. Cloudman, Preston Dickinson, 1889-1930, exh. cat., Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, Lincoln, 1979, pp. 27-28). In 1917, a critic similarly praised, “Preston Dickinson combines technical precision and intellectual force to a degree hardly approached by any of his companions… Not a line isn’t carried on to its logical outcome. And his color has the peculiar appeal that only can be made by a born colorist… To some of his new work he contributes a delightful humor” (R. Cloudman, ibid., pp. 22-23).

Indeed The Artist’s Table incorporates an intriguing perspective, vibrant color and an underlying witticism to create an ironically striking still life of the 1920s era of Prohibition. Judith A. Barter writes, “In The Artist’s Table the artist’s palette is rendered almost as an afterthought—which is tragic, when one considers that the talented Dickinson died from alcoholism in 1930 at the age of forty-one. The cocktail shaker, a fairly new utensil, is front and center, the beautiful blue reflection of the steel contrasting with the aqua tones of the water carafe. Alcohol, perhaps bourbon, is contained in a loosely corked bottle; the empty jigger and cut lemon echo the shape of the half-full martini glass. Suggested are basic elements of American cocktails: spirits, citrus, water, and bitters. The geometry of Dickinson’s Cubist-inspired rendition is similar to the streamlined verticality of…machines of functional skyscrapers of the period… Indeed, the cocktail shaker and martini glass became hallmarks of the era” (J.A. Barter, “Drunkards and Teetotalers: Alcohol and Still-Life Painting,” Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture, and Cuisine, exh. cat., Art Institute of Chicago, 2013, p. 130).

Moreover, taking into consideration the struggles of the artist’s dependence on alcohol to which Barter alludes, the present work can be further interpreted, in the manner of Demuth’s famous poster portrait series, as an almost eerily revealing symbolic self-portrait with memento mori elements. Combining this personal meaning with its achievements in design and color, The Artist’s Table epitomizes what Cloudman refers to as “the outstanding characteristic of all these pictures”—“the dynamic and lyrical distortion of form and the inventive color that give them a distinctively personal expressiveness” (R. Cloudman, op. cit., p. 37).

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