ARTHUR G. DOVE (1880-1946)
ARTHUR G. DOVE (1880-1946)
ARTHUR G. DOVE (1880-1946)
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ARTHUR G. DOVE (1880-1946)
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ARTHUR G. DOVE (1880-1946)

March, April

ARTHUR G. DOVE (1880-1946)
March, April
pastel on canvas
20 x 20 in. (50.8 x 50.8 cm.)
Painted in 1929.
The artist.
The Intimate Gallery, New York.
Dorothy Norman, New York, acquired from the above, 1929.
The Downtown Gallery, New York, 1947.
J. Walter, 1962.
Edith Gregor Halpert, New York.
Private collection, by descent, 1970.
Private collection, by descent, 1986.
Alexandre Gallery, New York.
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 2009.
A.L. Morgan, Arthur Dove: Life and Work, With a Catalogue Raisonné, Newark, Delaware, 1984, pp. 170-71, no. 29.9, illustrated.
D.B. Balken, Arthur Dove: A Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings and Things, New Haven, Connecticut, 2021, pp. 146, 333, no. 1929.10, illustrated.
(Probably) New York, The Intimate Gallery, Dove Exhibition, April 9-28, 1929.
New York, The Downtown Gallery; Los Angeles, California, Vanbark Studios; Santa Barbara, California, Santa Barbara Museum of Art; San Francisco, California, San Francisco Museum of Art, Dove Retrospective Exhibition: Paintings 1908 to 1946, January 7-May 18, 1947, no. 10.
Lynchburg, Virginia, Randolph-Macon Woman's College, 46th Annual Exhibition, April 28-June 4, 1957.
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, no. 28.
New York, Terry Dintenfass Gallery, Arthur G. Dove: Pastels, Charcoals, Watercolors, February 6-March 13, 1993, pp. 9, 40, no. 1, illustrated.
Williamstown, Massachusetts, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Dove/O'Keeffe: Circles of Influence, June 7-September 7, 2009, p. 75, pl. 36, illustrated.

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Lot Essay

In 1912, Arthur Dove exhibited a series of ten pastels at Alfred Stieglitz’s gallery 291 that are widely recognized as the first works of abstraction to ever be shown by an American artist. Prior to the 1913 Armory Show and at the same time as or perhaps even before Wassily Kandinsky was creating his Improvisations in Europe, Dove was at the forefront of the avant-garde and independently explored the possibilities of leaving behind representation altogether. His focus on pattern, light, color and form shocked contemporary viewers and established Dove as not only a true pioneer of American art, but moreover one of the first abstract artists in Western art history. In the years following this momentous debut, Dove continued his experimentations in a variety of media, from assemblages of everyday objects to metallic paint. Pastel became a rarely-used but critical medium in the artist’s ceaseless effort to interpret the “condition of light” in his environment into distilled visual experiences. As epitomized by March, April, Dove’s pastels are among the artist’s most visceral and vibrant evocations of the rhythms of nature.

To accompany the checklist for Dove’s 1929 exhibition at Alfred Stieglitz’s Intimate Gallery—in which the present work was likely a last minute addition—Dove wrote a series of “Notes,” including: “There is no such thing as abstraction. It is extraction, gravitation toward a certain direction, and minding your own business. If the exact be clear enough its value will exist. It is nearer to music, not the music of the ears…the music of the eyes.” (as quoted in B. Haskell, Arthur Dove, exhibition catalogue, San Francisco, California, 1974, p. 135) Accordingly, the forms in March, April feel at once as both a familiar tune and an elusive melody. A glowing orb-like form seems to rise from behind a dark horizon, like the sun or moon during a star-studded twilight—echoing the connotations of passing time and seasonal transition conveyed by the references to months in the title. At the same time, the irregular edge of the reverberating shape perhaps also recalls organic forms grounded closer to home, like a seashell or spring flower bud emerging from dark sand or soil. Executed in a palette of both rich, earthen neutrals and uncannily bright blues and yellows, the composition is a visualization of liminality as it teeters on the edge of abstraction and, as Dove calls it, “extraction” from nature.

The circular echoing in March, April—its palpable rhythm—recurs throughout Dove’s best work from the 1920s and 1930s. Indeed, Dove declared, “To make it breathe as does the rest of nature it must have a basic rhythm.” (as quoted Arthur Dove, p. 76) Barbara Haskell explains, “For Dove this rhythm was symbolized by a circular shape expanding from a central core in concentric bands of modulated color. Similar to the effect of a pebble dropped in water, this imagery set up a dynamic reverberation throughout the composition. The sense of vitality was further enhanced by the use of clearly visible brushstrokes which resembled pulsations of energy.” (Arthur Dove, p. 76) In the present work, the medium of pastel allows for Dove to create clearly directional lines bursting from the center of the dark circular form and surrounding it with glowing rings of light. These energetic, pulsating strokes of darker and lighter shades of yellow and pale blue cut through the rich cobalt background and dark brown foreground, like a current carrying all attention to the upper half of the composition.

The benefits of Dove’s choice of pastel are also seen in the brilliant preservation of the brightness of these hues, allowing the limited palette to exude a vibrant vitality even almost a century after their application. The unique texture and blending capabilities of pastel allowed Dove to continually innovate throughout his career. For example, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 1928 pastel Tree Forms and Water, Dove balances nuanced layering of the creamy pigment with areas of void to mimic the texture of the wood grain in the panel support. In March, April, Dove’s hand is clearly seen in the visible lines and dots of application creating the circular form, yet the vibrant blue background, as Melanie Kirschner has described other Dove pastels, is “gently modeled into a smooth, continuous, thick surface that capitalizes on the soft texture of pastel to create a luminous, matte finish.” (M. Kirschner, Arthur Dove: Watercolors and Pastels, New York, 1998, p. 29)

Dove’s circular rhythms in March, April also echo the work of his contemporary Georgia O’Keeffe, who similarly extracted forms from her environment to create thoroughly modern, abstracted visions of nature. O’Keeffe herself said that she was first attracted to Dove’s work “for its abstract organic shapes that coalesced into a seductive, undulating, rhythmic pattern." (as quoted in D.B. Balken, Dove/O'Keeffe: Circles of Influence, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 2009, p. 21) The two artists, who met through their mutual dealer Stieglitz, shared a commitment and spiritual connection to the natural world that led to an admiration for one another’s work and a lifelong artistic dialogue. More specifically, Haskell contends that March, April “can be allied with O’Keeffe’s The Lawrence Tree from 1929, in which the marks of light, stars, and drops of snow become both a magical overlay and a lambent device.” (Dove/OKeeffe: Circles of Influence, exhibition catalogue, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 2009, p. 75)

O'Keeffe famously reflected, “Dove had an earthy, simple quality that led directly to abstraction. His things are very special. I always wish I’d bought more of them.” (as quoted in Dove/OKeeffe: Circles of Influence, p. 25) March, April characterizes this special quality of Dove’s best work—transforming the simplest of forms reminiscent of nature or the cosmos into mesmerizingly amorphous, abstract concepts that tantalize and engage even as the source of their underlying rhythms remains elusive.

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