Throughout his career, Arthur Dove's chief inspiration was nature, not only in its outward forms, but also in its more elusive aspects. Painted in 1943, Departure from Three Points is characteristic of the artist's tendency to observe his immediate surroundings and integrate their abstracted forms into his art. This triumphant painting evokes the sense, rather than the particulars of the scene through a powerful simplification of forms, a reduced palette and sensuous, brushy surface.
The 1940s are widely regarded as Dove's most successful period in which he was producing his most progressive and purely abstract works such as Departure from Three Points. William C. Agee extols Dove's late works, writing, "[he] was a better artist at the end than he had been early on, and in his last five years he made his best paintings." ("Arthur Dove: A Place to Find Things," p. 435) Indeed, Dove felt that in the 1940s he had accomplished his career's goal, writing in August of 1942, shortly before he painted the present work that his paintings were finally "at the point where abstraction and reality meet." (as quoted in "Arthur Dove: A Place to Find Things," p. 438)
In Departure at Three Points, and in Dove's best works from the 1940s, gone are the overlapping, cacophonous forms of the 1920s and 1930s, having been replaced by reductive and serene fields of interlocking color. There is a greater clarity with no extraneous detail and the controlled expanses of pigment unite to create a powerful and dynamic composition. There is still the sense of rhythm that defines Dove's best works, in the jazzy serrated edges of the white and mocha forms echoed by the tan triangle, the throbbing vitality of the undulating hills of yellow and looping ovals of ivory and black, and the quieter throbbing of the larger curved forms. This harmonious amalgam of geometric and organic forms is set against a calm sea of teal, further heightening their effect.
Dove's statement on the exhibition pamphlet for his 1943 show at An American Place, which included Departure at Three Points said, "I would like to make something that is real in itself, that does not remind anyone of any other thing, and that does not have to be explained." (as quoted in Arthur G. Dove: Paintings - 1942-1943, exhibition pamphlet, New York, 1943) Departure at Three Points is the visual realization of this statement. It is an enigmatic and engaging composition, a hard edge organic abstraction defined by a sense of tension and balance that is similar to Alexander Calder's mobiles and Henri Matisse's paper-cut outs, such as The Codomas (Trapeze Performers), 1947 from the Jazz series (Musèe National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France) of several years later. Each is vaguely reminiscent of something more tangible, stirring a visceral response from the viewer, and yet they stand alone, utterly non-derivative as objects of beauty.
William C. Agee writes, "Perhaps the most American quality of Dove's art was his search for the real. Realism has come in many forms and definitions, but throughout our history it has been the most persistent strain in American art. Dove's search for the real involved every aspect of his art and his being. For Dove...reality was not the imitation of appearances, but rather referred to an essential, inner truth." ("Arthur Dove: A Place to Find Things," p. 433) Dove would often repeat forms and motifs in his art and many of his small works relate to his larger scale oils. Certain motifs in Departure from Three Points relate to other works from the 1940s including Space Divided by Line Motive (1943, The Corcoran Museum of Art, Washington, D.C.) and, as was his practice he produced a fairly complete small-scale study. This pencil study, which is being sold with the present work, has a similar composition to the finished oil; however, the areas that Dove has loosely demarcated as brown and yellow shift in the final work.
Dove painted Departure from Three Points while living in Centerport on Long Island. His works from this period often relate to scenes near his home and the present work can be interpreted in several ways. The greens and browns allude to Dove's verdant surroundings and the large swath of teal could reference the water that was close to his home. Even the basic shape of the large mocha colored area is similar to that of the town of Centerport. And yet, these are all suppositions, the only thing the viewer is certain of is the formal elements with which we are presented. "There was also a pictorial reality, fundamentally important to his art as well as to other modernist painters, of the primacy of the painting itself. Paint is real in itself; the pigment has a life of its own and is as real as nature. While the painting took its reference from the natural world, it was finally an independent object, inviolate unto itself; it was not a picture of something, but something invented, a 'thing' (as he termed it) in its own right, with its own reality, its own laws, and its own references.' ("Arthur Dove: A Place to Find Things", p. 434)
Departure from Three Points is characteristic of Dove's best work and manifests his great patron, Duncan Phillips' 1958 statement, "Arthur G. Dove deserves to be ranked with the dissimilar Kandinsky among the earliest abstract expressionists. Certainly in the realm of uncompromising and impetuous exploration Dove was the boldest American pioneer. He was and is unique...Profound was his conversion in his years of decision to the concept of the intimately symbolical image, to be abstracted from nature and from the most familiar objects, as a new language for painting." (in F.S. Wright, Arthur G. Dove, Berkeley, California, 1958, p. 13) Departure from Three Points is a seminal and visionary work that is representative of Dove's greatest achievements and presages the Abstract Expressionist movement of the 1940s.
Please note the present lot includes a study for Departure from Three Points, colored pencil, pencil and oil on paper, 3¾ x 5¾ in. (9.5 x 14.6 cm.).