Arthur G. Dove (1880-1946)
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Arthur G. Dove (1880-1946)

Snow on Ice, Huntington Harbor

Arthur G. Dove (1880-1946)
Snow on Ice, Huntington Harbor
signed and dated 'Dove/30' (lower right)
oil and pencil on canvas
18 1/8 x 21 ¾ in. (46 x 55.2 cm.)
Painted in 1930.
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 56.
Acquired by the late owners from the above.
A.L. Morgan, Arthur Dove: Life and Work, With a Catalogue Raisonné, Newark, Delaware, 1984, pp. 186-87, no. 30.17, pl. 30.17, illustrated.
J. Barnitz, et al., The David and Peggy Rockefeller Collection: Art of the Western Hemisphere, vol. II, New York, 1988, pp. 73-75, no. 33, illustrated.
A. Hammond, "Ansel Adams: Natural Scene," The Archive (University of Arizona), vol. 27, April 1990, illustrated.
A. Gussow, R. Wilbur, D. Brower, A Sense of Place: The Artist and the American Land, Washington, D.C., 1997, n.p., illustrated.
S. Field, In Sight, Hanover, New Hampshire, 2004, p. 8.
New York, An American Place, Arthur Dove: 27 New Paintings, March 22-April 22, 1930, no. 24.
New York, The Downtown Gallery, Arthur G. Dove, 1880-1946: Paintings, April 22-May 10, 1952, no. 3.
Atlanta, Georgia, Atlanta Public Library; Shreveport, Louisiana, Louisiana State Exhibit Museum; Louisville, Kentucky, J.B. Speed Art Museum; Williamstown, Massachusetts, Lawrence Art Museum; Chattanooga, Tennessee, George Thomas Hunter Gallery; Lincoln, Nebraska, University of Nebraska Museum; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Art Center; Albuquerque, New Mexico, New Mexico Art League; Ithaca, New York, Cornell University Museum; New York, Rose Fried Gallery, Pioneers of American Abstract Art, December 1, 1955-January 9, 1957, p. 5, no. 10.
Sarasota, Florida, Art Association, 1958.
Iowa City, Iowa, State University of Iowa, School of Fine Arts, Twentieth Annual Festival of Fine Arts: Exhibition of Contemporary Paintings, June 18-August 13, 1958, no. 8.
Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art, The Edith Gregor Halpert Collection, September 28-November 11, 1962.
Washington, D.C., U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, 1962-63, on loan.
Washington, D.C., National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution, Roots of Abstract Art in America, 1910-1930, December 2, 1965-January 9, 1966, no. 68.
Huntington, New York, Heckscher Museum, Arthur G. Dove of Long Island Sound, August 20-September 17, 1967, no. 6.
Washington, D.C., National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution, Edith Gregor Halpert Memorial Exhibition, April 7-June 25, 1972, no. 6.
San Francisco, California, San Francisco Museum of Art, Arthur Dove, November 21, 1974-January 5, 1975.
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Lot Essay

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

Heralded as the very first truly abstract American artist, Arthur G. Dove's career was an ever-evolving balance between inspiration from the American landscape and dependence on his own innovative artistic spirit. Dove once proclaimed, “When a man paints the El, a 1740 house or a miner’s shack, he is likely to be called by his critics, American. These things may be in America, but it’s what is in the artist that counts. What do we call ‘American’ outside of painting? Inventiveness, restlessness, speed, change. Well, then a painter may put all these qualities in a still life or an abstraction, and be going more native than another who sits quietly copying a skyscraper.” (as quoted in A.L. Morgan, Arthur Dove: Life and Work, With a Catalogue Raisonné, Newark, Delaware, 1984, p. 75) Transforming a common winter view, albeit often overlooked, into an amorphous exploration of color and form, Dove’s Snow on Ice, Huntington Harbor epitomizes this inventive approach to American art that he championed, and moreover attests to Dove’s place among the most compelling artists of the 20th century.

In 1922, after living for several years in his hometown of Geneva, New York, with his first wife, Dove moved aboard a 42-foot sailboat named Mona with his new companion, fellow artist Helen 'Reds' Torr. They toured the Mona in and around the harbors of Long Island Sound before ultimately docking in 1929 at the Ketewomoke Yacht Club in Halesite, where they took a simple second-floor room overlooking Huntington Harbor in exchange for maintenance of the club. In a letter to his close friend and dealer Alfred Stieglitz, Dove praised, “They called a meeting and gave us the top floor and use of the rest rent free just to have someone there. The room is full of light about 30’ x 40’...a wonderful view of the whole harbor. So our wish for a house on a dock where we could tie [up our] boat has come true. And we think it will work out for winter, too.” (as quoted in B. Haskell, Arthur Dove, exhibition catalogue, San Francisco, California, 1974, p. 38) Indeed, the new living situation, along with the newly established patronage of collector Duncan Phillips, allowed Dove the space and comfort to focus on his artwork, and the harbor environment provided sources of inspiration throughout the seasons.

In her Saturday, February 15, 1930 diary entry, Torr likely referred to the basis for the present work, recording, “Arthur did painting of ice with snow rings—out window.” (Arthur and Helen Torr Dove papers, 1905-1975, 1920-1946. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Box 2, Folder 5) This account suggests that Snow on Ice depicts the view from their Yacht Club window down to the frozen waters of the Sound below. While the window panes are not visible, perhaps the cropped composition of the painting owes its boundaries to their presence; alternatively, Dove may have magnified a segment of the scene for his work in a manner similar to his friend Georgia O’Keeffe. This ambiguity, and the work’s success, derives from Dove’s bold de-contextualization of the landscape from which it was extrapolated. The iced-over waters become a field of green brushstrokes with differentiated transparencies, perhaps suggesting differing layers of ice but also revealing the artist’s presence. The pure white snow, outlined with cool blue where thinner atop the ice, forms a curvaceous focal point of the composition, while also suggesting a camouflage type pattern on the sea of green.

The patterning of Snow on Ice—its palpable rhythm—recurs throughout Dove’s best work, particularly of the late 1920s and 1930s. Dove himself wrote, “I have come to the conclusion that one must have a means governed by a definitive rhythmic sense beyond geometric repetition. The play or spread or swing of space can only be felt with this kind of consciousness…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, layers of blue orbs expand around small dark spots, perhaps literally representing areas of the snow where “a pebble dropped in water.” The circular forms are then complicated, their outer rings beginning to merge with the amoeba-like snow drift with its naturally curving form. As a result, the composition remains organic rather than forced, accidental yet imbued with the artist’s spirit. As Duncan Phillips praised, and as embodied by Snow on Ice, Dove’s best work reveals that, “Mat surfaces could be rich and sensuous. Flat painting…could be vibrant. Magic could come from contour and from color and texture and retain the first joy of direct experience. There was the earthly, the elemental, to be savored in paint, and yet subtleties of modulated tone were not to be thought inconsistent with nature’s organic forms and the happy accidents that nature provides for art in time, light, and weather.” (Arthur G. Dove, Berkeley, California, 1958, p. 14)

Dove scholar Ann Lee Morgan has written, “In most of his work, Dove amalgamated in varying proportions the two major ingredients of his art: nature imagery and pure, abstract form. The first element derives from a deeply felt American tradition; the second is a response to the most advanced, twentieth-century ideas in art. The balance between these components swings from the extreme, on the one hand, of paintings that come close to being ‘realistic’…to, on the other hand, paintings in which pure form so predominates that nothing but the smallest vestiges of natural imagery can be perceived.” (Arthur Dove: Life and Work, With a Catalogue Raisonné, p. 38) A striking example toward the latter, abstracted end of Dove’s spectrum, Snow on Ice is a triumph of early American Modernism that presages the Abstract Expressionist movement of the 1940s.

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