Arthur G. Dove (1880-1946)
The Michael Scharf Family Collection
Arthur G. Dove (1880-1946)

Nature Symbolized No. 1 (Roofs)

Arthur G. Dove (1880-1946)
Nature Symbolized No. 1 (Roofs)
signed 'Dove' (lower left)
pastel on paperboard
18 x 21 ½ in. (45.7 x 54.6 cm.)
Executed in 1911-12.
Alfred Stieglitz, New York.
The Downtown Gallery, New York.
Heyward Cutting, Cambridge, Massachusetts, acquired from the above, 1959.
Private collection, New York.
Andrew Crispo Gallery, Inc., New York.
ACA Galleries, Inc., New York.
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1994.
J.E. Chamberlin, "Pattern Paintings by A.G. Dove," Evening Mail, New York, March 2, 1912, p. 8.
G.C. Cook, "Causerie (Post-Impressionism After Seeing Mr. Dove's Pictures)," Chicago Evening Post Literary Review, March 29, 1912.
F.S. Wight, Arthur G. Dove, exhibition catalogue, Los Angeles, California, 1958, p. 35.
W.I. Homer, Alfred Stieglitz and the American Avant-Garde, New York, 1977, pp. 114-15, fig. 32, illustrated.
W.I. Homer, "Identifying Arthur Dove's 'The Ten Commandments,'" American Art Journal, vol. 12, Summer 1980, pp. 24, 32, illustrated.
A. Klaric, Arthur G. Dove’s Abstract Style of 1912: Dimensions of the Decorative and Bergsonian Realities, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1984, pp. 35-36, 67n3, 72-76, 169, 172, 180-84, 209, 211, 242, 272-73, 279-82, 306, 411, illustrated.
A.L. Morgan, Arthur Dove: Life and Work with a Catalogue Raisonné, Newark, Delaware, 1984, pp. 43-44, 105-06, no. 11/12.4, illustrated.
S.A. Prince, The Old Guard and the Avant-Garde: Modernism in Chicago, 1910-1940, Chicago, Illinois, 1990, pp. 27, 30, fig. 2.3, illustrated.
P. Richard, "Arthur Dove and the Abstract Question," The Washington Post, September 21, 1997, illustrated.
M. Kirschner, Arthur Dove: Watercolors and Pastels, New York, 1998, p. 28.
B. Haskell, Oscar Bluemner: A Passion for Color, exhibition catalogue, New York, 2005, pp. 43-44, fig. 32, illustrated.
R.Z. DeLue, Arthur Dove: Always Connect, Chicago, Illinois, 2016, p. 168.
W.C. Agee, et al., The Scharf Collection: A History Revealed, New York, 2018, pp. 16-18, 176, illustrated.
A. Pensler, Arthur Dove: A Reassessment, Seattle, Washington, 2018, pp. 37, 91, fig. 12, illustrated.
New York, Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession (“291”), Arthur G. Dove First Exhibition Anywhere, February 27-March 12, 1912.
Chicago, Illinois, W. Scott Thurber Galleries, Paintings of Arthur Dove, March 14-30, 1912.
New York, National Arts Club, Exhibition of Contemporary Art, February 5-March 7, 1914, no. 20, illustrated.
(Probably) Anderson Galleries, Forum Exhibition of Modern American Painters, March 13-25, 1916.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Museum of Art, History of an American, Alfred Stieglitz, "291" and After, July 1-November 1, 1944, no. 251.
New York, The Downtown Gallery, Abstract Painting in America, 1903-1923, March 27-April 21, 1962, no. 16 (as Factory Chimneys).
Iowa City, Iowa, University of Iowa, Department of Art, The New Gallery, Vintage Moderns, American Pioneer Artists: 1903-1932, May 24-August 2, 1962, pp. 11-12, no. 16, illustrated.
New York, Andrew Crispo Gallery, Inc., 20th Century American Masters, September-November 1978, no. 46.
New York, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., Buildings: Architecture in American Modernism, October 29-November 29, 1980, no. 28.
London, Tate Gallery, Abstraction: Towards a New Art; Painting 1910-1920, February 5-April 13, 1980, no. 428 (as Nature Symbolised).
Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection; Atlanta, Georgia, High Museum of Art; Kansas City, Missouri, William Rockhill Nelson Gallery and Atkins Museum of Fine Arts; Houston, Texas, Museum of Fine Arts; Columbus, Ohio, Columbus Museum of Art; Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, New Milwaukee Art Center, Arthur Dove and Duncan Phillips: Artist and Patron, June 13, 1981-November 14, 1982, no. 10.
New York, Phillip Morris Inc. (organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art), The Forum Exhibition: Selections and Additions, May 18-June 22, 1983, p. 21, illustrated.
Andover, Massachusetts, Phillips Academy, Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover Alumni Collectors, April 29-July 31, 1995.
Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Andover, Massachusetts, Phillips Academy, Addison Gallery of American Art; Los Angeles, California, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Arthur Dove: A Retrospective, September 20, 1997-October 4, 1998, pp. 21, 42, 181, no. 9, illustrated.
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Picasso and American Art, September 28, 2006-January 28, 2007, pp. 34, 40, 384, pl. 10, illustrated.

Brought to you by

William Haydock
William Haydock

Lot Essay

This work will be included in the forthcoming revision of the Arthur Dove Catalogue Raisonné, under the direction of Debra Bricker Balken.

Nature Symbolized No. 1 (Roofs) belongs to a series of ten pastels executed by Arthur G. Dove in 1911-12 that are widely recognized as the first works of abstraction to ever be exhibited by an American artist. At the same time as, and perhaps even before, Wassily Kandinsky was creating his Improvisations in Europe, and prior to the 1913 Armory Show, Dove was at the forefront of the avant-garde and independently explored the possibilities of leaving behind representation altogether. On February 27, 1912, his experimentations came to fruition when his showing of abstract pastels, now collectively known as the Ten Commandments, opened at Alfred Stieglitz’s gallery 291 and was proclaimed by critics as “absolutely original.” (as quoted in D.B. Balken, Arthur Dove: A Retrospective, Washington, D.C., 1997, p. 22) The focus on pattern, light, color and form seen in these works, including Nature Symbolized No. 1 (Roofs), shocked contemporary viewers and established Dove as not only a true pioneer of American art, but moreover one of the first abstract artists of the Western world.

Spending his childhood and college years in Upstate New York, Dove moved to New York City in 1903, starting out as a freelance illustrator before deciding to concentrate on pure painting. In 1908, he traveled abroad to France and became familiar with the Impressionist and Fauvist masters, trying out the still-life style of Matisse. His work from this period, The Lobster (1908, Amon Carter Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas), caught the eye of Alfred Stieglitz and was exhibited in 1910 at his gallery 291. The two men quickly formed a close relationship, and Dove found in Stieglitz both a mentor and a passionate supporter of American Modernism.

Amidst the innovative environment of Stieglitz’s circle, Dove’s artistic output suddenly took an abrupt turn. In 1910-11, he began creating small oil paintings inspired by the natural environment, yet not aspiring to represent it. Dove recalled of his motivations during this time, “Then there was a long period of searching for something in color which I then called ‘a condition of light.’ It applied to all objects in nature, flowers, trees, people, apples, cows. These all have their certain conditions of light, which establishes them to the eye, to each other, and to the understanding.” (as quoted on A. Klaric, Arthur G. Dove’s Abstract Style of 1912: Dimensions of the Decorative and Bergsonian Realities, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Michigan, 1984, p. 208) Seeking the essential “condition of light” of each object, Dove began to see the world around him in terms of rhythmic repetitions of color and form rather than unique details. He looked for underlying patterns to capture in unique pastels, looking to a variety of inspirations, from animals and plants to manmade boats and buildings. Likely executed in rapid succession, these pastels all “similarly delineate something of the erratic, unknowable working of nature while projecting an almost geometric plan on top of its motion.” (Arthur Dove: A Retrospective, p. 21)

One of the 1911-12 abstract works (now unknown and unlocated) was referred to as Ten Commandments, and at some point Stieglitz or Dove began identifying the entire group by this name to distinguish this formative series of the artist’s career, and indeed of American abstraction. Identifying the Ten Commandments works, however, has since required investigation, as neither the original exhibition at gallery 291 nor its second showing at the W. Scott Thurber Galleries in Chicago featured illustrated checklists. The other pastels now identified as belonging to the Ten Commandments series include Team of Horses (Horses in Snow), Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas; Nature Symbolized No. 2 (Wind on Hillside), Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois; Nature Symbolized No. 3, Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, Illinois; Based on Leaf Forms and Spaces, location unknown; Sails, Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, Illinois; Cow, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Calf, Private Collection; and Movement No. 1, Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, Columbus, Ohio.

The present work, Nature Symbolized No. 1 (Roofs), has been verified as one of the only works remaining in private hands from the group based on a drawing in an early card catalogue of Dove’s work as well as through descriptions in 1912 reviews of the exhibitions. For example, the New York Evening Mail mentioned a work depicting “steep roofs through a window,” and the Chicago Evening Post Literary Review critic wrote of “roofs and factory chimneys. It is the cutting, vertical lines of the chimneys—their cuttingness, their verticalness, their parallelness that interested the artist, not their chimneyness. He leaves chimneyness to photography…” (as quoted in A.L. Morgan, Arthur Dove: Life and Work with a Catalogue Raisonné, Newark, Delaware, 1984, p. 106)

Indeed, the present work epitomizes the elements for which the Ten Commandments series is known: the clearly defined shapes derived from nature; the restricted, earthy palette; the repetitive patterning; and the effective use of the pastel medium. Dove described of the process behind Nature Symbolized No. 2, “I chose three forms from the planes on the sides of the trees and three colors, and black and white. From these was made a rhythmic painting which expressed the spirit of the whole thing.” (as quoted in A. Antliff, Anarchist Modernism: Art, Politics, and the First American Avant-Garde, Chicago, Illinois, 2001, p. 37) Here, in Nature Symbolized No. 1 (Roofs), Dove looks to “three forms from the planes” of the modern environment—rectilinear buildings, towering chimney stacks and rolling hills—to create a design of diamonds and orbs intersected by vertical lines, which teeters between a three-dimensional perspective and two-dimensional decorative patterning. The reddish-brown shapes are fanned out into, as William C. Agee has described, a “stacked, ‘playing card’ arrangement of houses that eliminated any suggestion of his early illusionistic style.” (The Scharf Collection: A History Revealed, New York, 2018, p. 16) The icy blue centers of the rounded elements create an almost otherworldly glow around the sharper, geometric forms, further distancing the composition from representation.

The benefits of Dove’s choice of pastel as a medium are seen in the perfect preservation of these brilliant hues, allowing the very limited palette of three colors—brown, blue and cream—to exude a vibrant vitality even a century after their application. The unique texture and blending capabilities of pastel also may have assisted Dove in his innovations. Melanie Kirschner explains, “Dove’s 1911-12 pastels used the softness and control of the medium to smooth out the scratchy impasto of the small oils that had preceded them…The areas of color are gently modeled into a smooth, continuous, thick surface that capitalizes on the soft texture of pastel to create a luminous, matte finish.” (Melanie Kirschner, Arthur Dove: Watercolors and Pastels, New York, 1998, p. 29) Indeed, the creamy surface of the pastel, and its application with minimal modeling effect, forces the viewer to concentrate on the flatness of the picture plane. As a result, Dove further emphasizes the two-dimensional, almost cloisonné-type pattern of the composition rather than the sense of three-dimensional space derived from the overlapping positions of the forms.

By reducing the environment around him to its most basic structures and patterns, its “condition of light,” Dove revolutionized the artistic landscape of America with his Ten Commandments series. The abstracted visions of nature’s rhythms in these seminal works would reverberate through the rest of Dove’s career. In particular, Nature Symbolized No. 1 (Roofs) extended that focus on abstractions inspired by the environment to the manmade world as well, which would be a recurring theme throughout the twentieth century, for example in the art of the Precisionists. The Ten Commandments represented a monumental step forward in the understanding of what Modern art could be, and firmly “established Dove as the foremost practitioner of abstract painting in this country.” (D.B. Balken, Arthur Dove: A Retrospective, p. 22)

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