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

George Gershwin--"Rhapsody in Blue," Part I

Arthur G. Dove (1880-1946)
George Gershwin--"Rhapsody in Blue," Part I
inscribed with title (on the reverse)
oil and metallic paint on aluminum with clock spring
10 ½ x 8 ¾ in. (26.7 x 22.2 cm.)
Painted in 1927.
The Downtown Gallery, New York.
The Edith Gregor Halpert Collection, New York.
Sotheby Parke-Bernet, New York, 20th Century American Paintings, Drawings, Watercolors and Sculpture: The Edith Gregor Halpert Collection (The Downtown Gallery), 14 March 1973, lot 39, sold by the above.
William Young, Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts, acquired from the above.
[With]Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., New York.
Andrew Crispo Gallery, Inc., New York, acquired from the above, 1978.
Sotheby's, New York, 3 December 1997, lot 36, sold by the above.
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
E. A. Jewell, "Arthur Dove's New Work," The New York Times, December 18, 1927, p. 12.
E. Watkins, "Collage Show Brings It All Together," The Sunday Star-Ledger, April 22, 1979, p. 12.
A.A. Davidson, Early Modernist Painting, 1910-1935, New York, 1981, pp. 51-52, fig. 27, illustrated.
A. Klaric, Arthur G. Dove’s Abstract Style of 1912: Dimensions of the Decorative and Bergsonian Realities, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1984, pp. 55-56, 430, fig. 40, illustrated.
A.L. Morgan, Arthur Dove: Life and Work, With a Catalogue Raisonné, Newark, Delaware, 1984, p. 153, no. 27.2, illustrated.
J. Zilczer, "Synaesthesia and Popular Culture: Arthur Dove, George Gershwin, and the 'Rhapsody in Blue,'" Art Journal, vol. 44, no. 4, Winter 1984, pp. 361-66, illustrated.
J. Zilczer, "'Color Music': Synaesthesia and Nineteenth-Century Sources for Abstract Art," Artibus et Historiae, vol. 8, no. 16, 1987, pp. 111, 113, fig. 14, illustrated.
D.M. Cassidy, "Arthur Dove’s Music Paintings of the Jazz Age," The American Art Journal, vol. 20, no. 1, 1988, pp. 7, 13-14, 16, fig. 9, illustrated
A.L. Morgan, ed., Dear Stieglitz, Dear Dove, Newark, Delaware, 1988, pp. 128-29, illustrated.
A. Berman, "The Quiet Man of American Modernism," Smithsonian, vol. 28, no. 8.
D. Cassidy, Painting the Musical City: Jazz and Cultural Identity in American Art, Washington, D.C., 1997, xii, 6, 81, 85-86, fig. 55, illustrated.
W. Corn, The Great American Thing: Modern Art and National Identity, 1913-1935, Berkeley, California, 1999, pp. 30, 415, fig. 14, illustrated.
H. Cooper, "Arthur Dove Paints a Record," Source Notes in the History of Art, vol. 24, no. 2, Winter 2005, p. 70.
B.L. Leach, Looking and Listening: Conversations between Modern Art and Music, Lanham, Maryland, 2015, pp. 21-23, fig. 2.1, illustrated.
R.Z. DeLue, Arthur Dove: Always Connect, Chicago, Illinois, 2016, pp. 148-49, 158, 161-64, 193, 196, 220, fig. 100, illustrated.
J. Zilczer, "From Modern to Postmodern in Visual Music," The Oxford Handbook of Sound and Image in Western Art, Oxford, England, 2016, p. 22.
W.C. Agee, et al., The Scharf Collection: A History Revealed, New York, 2018, pp. 59, 115-16, 119-20, 176, illustrated.
New York, The Intimate Gallery, Arthur G. Dove Paintings, December 12, 1927-January 1928, no. 2 (as Rhapsody in Blue, Part I--Gershwin).
New York, The Downtown Gallery, Collages: Dove, November 1-26, 1955, no. 15.
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Washington, D.C., Phillips Memorial Art Gallery; Boston, Massachusetts, Museum of Fine Arts; San Antonio, Texas, Marion Koogler McNay Art Institute; Los Angeles, California, Art Galleries of the University of California; LaJolla, California, LaJolla Art Center; San Francisco, California, San Francisco Museum of Art, Arthur G. Dove, September 30, 1958-September 30, 1959, pp. 54-55, illustrated.
Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art, Edith Gregor Halpert Collection, January 16-February 28, 1960, n.p., no. 18, illustrated.
Washington, D.C., Washington Gallery of Modern Art; Hartford, Connecticut, Wadsworth Atheneum, 20th Century-American Painting and Sculpture, September 17-December 6, 1965.
College Park, Maryland, University of Maryland Art Gallery, J. Millard Tawes Fine Arts Center, Arthur Dove: The Years of Collage, March 13-April 19, 1967, pp. 19-20, 40, no. 21, illustrated.
Storrs, Connecticut, University of Connecticut Museum of Art, Edith Halpert and the Downtown Gallery, May 25-September 1, 1968, n.p., no. 5, illustrated.
New York, Terry Dintenfass Gallery, Inc., Arthur G. Dove: Collages, December 22, 1970-January 23, 1971 (as George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, Part I).
New York, Andrew Crispo Gallery, Inc., Paris/New York, 1910-1930s: The Influences of Paris on New York and American Artists in the 20th Century, June-August 1977, no. 29.
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Arthur Dove, November 24, 1975-January 18, 1976, p. 66, illustrated.
New York, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., The Eye of Stieglitz, October 7-November 2, 1978, p. 25, no. 20, illustrated.
Montclair, New Jersey, Montclair Art Museum, Collage: American Masters of the Medium, May 6-June 24, 1979, n.p., no. 15.
New York, Andrew Crispo Gallery, Inc., 20th Century American Painting and Sculpture, April 20-June 1, 1980.
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, p. 85, no. 19, illustrated.
Berlin, Germany, Martin-Gropious-Bau, Amerikanische Kunst im 20. Jahrhundert: Maleri und Plastik, 1913-1993, May 8-July 25, 1993, n.p., pl. 34, illustrated (as George Gershwin-"Rhapsody in Blue," Tiel I).

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.

Translating one of the most popular musical compositions of the twentieth century into a visual homage, while combining the all-over flatness of abstract painting with three-dimensional assemblage and glints of metal, Arthur Dove’s George Gershwin—“Rhapsody in Blue” paintings stand among the most radically experimental works of an artistic career known for its innovation. Lots 19 and 20 belong to a series of six paintings by Dove inspired by music and exhibited together at Alfred Stieglitz's The Intimate Gallery in 1927. The related works are another George Gershwin-inspired painting I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts), An Orange Grove in California—Irving Berlin (Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain), Rhythm Rag (lost) and Improvision (Denver Art Museum, Denver, Colorado). Created in the middle of the Roaring Twenties, these paintings vividly evoke the vibrant, improvisational spirit of American jazz. Gershwin himself described “Rhapsody in Blue” as “as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America—of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our blues, our metropolitan madness.” (as quoted in I. Goldberg, George Gershwin: A Study in American Music, New York, 1961, p. 139) In this way, Dove’s musical paintings transcribe not only the feeling of Gershwin’s songs, but moreover distill into color and line the essence of the dynamism of the American Jazz Age.

In 1924, George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” debuted at New York’s Aeolian Hall as the star composition of popular band leader Paul Whiteman’s An Experiment in Modern Music. The occasion marked one of the first times modern jazz music was performed in the formal setting of an orchestral hall. Gershwin recalled of his inspiration behind the song, “It was on the train [to Boston] with its steely rhythms, its rattle-ty-bang that is so often so stimulating to a composer…And there I suddenly heard–and even saw on paper–the complete construction of the rhapsody from beginning to end…” (as quoted in George Gershwin: A Study in American Music, p. 139) The resulting composition fused this modern mechanical element with the rhythmic syncopations and harmonies of jazz into the traditional format of a rhapsody. Gershwin also added an element of synesthesia to his composition with the subtitle “in Blue,” suggesting a visual element to the aural experience, as well as a reference to the old-time musical “blues.” This amalgamation of influences reflects the unique experience of American culture during this era, as embodied by Gershwin’s statement, “And what is the voice of the American soul? It is jazz…It is all colors and all souls unified in the great melting-pot of the world.” (as quoted in B.L. Leach, Looking and Listening: Conversations between Modern Art and Music, Lanham, Maryland, 2015, p. 17)

During this period, visual artists, including Arthur Dove and other members of the Stieglitz Circle, were similarly striving to express the uniqueness of twentieth-century America in their art, seeking inspiration from the rapidly changing cities and cultures around them, and also often in the jazz music of their contemporaries. Donna M. Cassidy explains, “By painting jazz Dove not only stamped his art as native but did so using a modern style. He rejected the descriptive realism of American Scene painting and fashioned instead a form of abstraction rooted in native, nationalistic sources.” (Painting the Musical City: Jazz and Cultural Identity in American Art, Washington, D.C., 1997, p. 81) Dove himself was an amateur musician and singer, and his interest in jazz was likely peaked when he attended one of Paul Whiteman’s concerts in December 1925. The following year, he purchased five jazz albums, including “Rhapsody in Blue,” and began to regularly listen to them at home and with friends. By December 1926 and into the next year, he was painting works specifically inspired by the records. His partner Helen “Reds” Torr wrote in her diary on December 1, 1926: “After supper A. did handsome spirited ‘music’ with almost everything in sight to Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue.’” (Archives of American Art, Arthur and Helen Torr Dove papers)

For this series of works, Dove would listen to the musical piece over and over again while working, creating ticker-tape-like long pieces of paper filled with notations transcribing the musical rhythms. This linear style transfers into the final works as well, in which swathes of broader color are overlain with gestural cross-hatched lines and swirls. Rachel Z. DeLue describes, “Sweeping and spiraling lines and sizzling color mark the quick and deft cadences and the brash energy of the compositions in question, while linear couplings call to mind the call-and-response effects typical of jazz. This includes…the clock spring and its painted almost-shadow in Rhapsody in Blue, Part I, and the staccato slashes welded over wending lines in Rhapsody in Blue, Part II....Quick-seeming and all-over brushwork engenders a sense of improvisation in each of the canvases…something Dove probably associated with jazz even if the recordings were not themselves the products of improvisation.” (Arthur Dove: Always Connect, Chicago, Illinois, 2016, p. 158)

Through such techniques, in the present works Dove not only references “Rhapsody in Blue” by utilizing the color blue and conveying the overall feeling of the music, but also seemingly translates the specific notes and rhythms into visual form. Harry Cooper writes, “few other modern paintings have so directly referenced specific jazz compositions, let alone particular performances or recordings.” (“Arthur Dove Paints a Record,” Notes in the History of Art, vol. 24, no. 2, Winter 2005, p. 70) Based on the paintings’ designations into Part I and Part II, scholars have deduced that Dove must have been listening to one of the early 78 rpm recordings of “Rhapsody in Blue,” which featured 2-3 minutes of music on each side of the album: Part I, the allegro opening, and Part II, the slower middle section and quick finale. Thus, the long vertical lines of Dove’s George Gershwin—“Rhapsody in Blue,” Part I have been related to the famous clarinet glissando which opens the song, and the sweeping whirlwind of George Gershwin—“Rhapsody in Blue,” Part II to the building crescendo of the finale.

The gestural physicality of the works is augmented by the collage element of the clock spring in Part I. In the 1920s, while focusing on music, Dove was also working on a series of assemblages of everyday objects, which not only formed the visual effect he was seeking but also added inherent metaphor. For example, he employed a spring, lens and photographic plate in his abstract Portrait of Alfred Stieglitz (1924, Museum of Modern Art, New York) to form a head-and-body arrangement but also to suggest his subject’s photography career. The metal spring in George Gershwin—“Rhapsody in Blue,” Part I similarly elevates the work beyond its design to include several meanings related to its physical material. The metal spring, and metal paint in both works, recall the train tracks that inspired Gershwin’s composition, the spring-driven motor and hand crank of the phonograph by which Dove listened to the music, and more generally the spirit of the Machine Age. The spring also brings an element of time into the painting—of course, a key element of music—as Dove wrote to Stieglitz in 1925: “The future seems to be gone through by a spiral spring from the past. The tension of that spring is the important thing.” (as quoted in Arthur Dove: Always Connect, p. 161)

Exploring these deeply intellectual and spiritual themes by relating them to approachable, popular music, Dove was perhaps seeking a means by which to expand the appreciation of his revolutionary abstract art to a broader audience. As he wrote to Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe, “[Friends] have waxed enthusiastic over a ‘thing’ of mine being done from Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ not as yet completed, but I feel it will make people see that the so called ‘abstractions’ are not abstract at all…It is illustration.” (Undated letter, Dove to Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe, Alfred Stieglitz Archive, YCAL) While he may not have fully succeeded in relating to his contemporary viewers, who described the 1927 exhibition of his music paintings as “so largely fourth dimensional that ordinary standards of judgment fail when applied to them” (E.A. Jewell, “Arthur Dove’s New Work,” The New York Times, December 18, 1927), this supremely innovative series helps unveil some of the key inspirations of Dove’s profound career in abstraction—namely, the rhythm and beat of the American Jazz Age. As Judith Zilczer declares, “With his jazz paintings, Dove evoked the fast-paced tempo of twentieth-century life, and, in so doing, he came as close as any American modernist to achieving visual music on the two dimensional canvas.” (“Form Modern to Postmodern in Visual Music,” The Oxford Handbook of Sound and Image in Western Art, Oxford, England, 2016, p. 22)

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