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Arthur Dove Photo

Arthur Dove

American Painter

Born: August 2, 1880 - Canandaigua, New York
Died: November 23, 1946 - Long Island, New York
"I look at nature, I see myself. Paintings are mirrors, so is nature."
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Arthur Dove Signature
"The forms should tell their own story."
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"I would like to make something that is real in itself that does not remind anyone of any other things, and that does not have to be explained like the letter A, for instance."
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"I can claim no background except perhaps the woods, running streams, hunting, fishing, camping, the sky."
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"We cannot express the light in nature because we have not the sun. We can only express the light we have in ourselves."
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"What constitutes American painting?... 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.."
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"How do you feel about a person when you're talking over the phone? If you know them, or if you don't know them, do you get something, do you put that into words of your own, from what they say, or from what you think? Or if it were music over the radio, have you ever tried to think how it would look?"
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Summary of Arthur Dove

America in the 1910s and 1920s experienced rapid industrialization and urban growth. Arthur Dove sought refuge from the quickened pace of historical change by translating nature into an abstract and distinctly modern vocabulary of color, shape, and line. This retreat into the slow, sustained rhythms of the natural world, its annual renewal, and its visual, spiritual, and auditory sensations define his career. Dove, who was an ardent amateur musician, was also deeply inspired by the parallels between the visual arts and music, and created many works inspired by the popular songs he listened to on the radio. Dove can be seen, simultaneously, as an heir to 19th-century Transcendentalists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, as well as an influence on such later Abstract Expressionists as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner.


  • In the age of machines and materialism, Dove's work instead concentrated on nature as an something to experience, rather than a commodity to own. He stressed the interconnection of humans and the environment, and painted emotionally charged and brilliantly colored scenes of natural wonder.
  • Dove was attracted to the timelessness of nature, which he interpreted into a modern abstract vocabulary of color, shape, line, and scale. Simultaneously, Dove was both the heir to 19th-century American landscape painting, and the practitioner of new forms of modern painting.
  • Despite the evident influence of French Modernism, Dove's artwork is firmly located within cultural and artistic traditions of reverence for the American land, considering nature as the nation's living past.
  • Dove was a central member of Alfred Stieglitz's group who were the first moderns in American art. The collective broke away from representational and narrative art, created works that were innovative and often abstract in terms of their style, color, composition, and forms.

Biography of Arthur Dove

Arthur Dove Photo

Arthur Dove was born on August 2, 1880, in Canandaigua, New York, to parents of English descent; his father, a successful businessman, was a building contractor and brick manufacturer. As a child, Dove became friends with a neighbor, naturalist Newton Weatherby, who took him along on hunting, fishing, and camping excursions and encouraged Dove's lifelong fascination with nature. Weatherby was also an amateur artist who gave assorted scraps of canvas to Dove to paint on.

Important Art by Arthur Dove

Progression of Art
Lobster (1908)


Painted while in Paris, Lobster shows the influence of the French modern masters upon Dove, in particular Paul Cézanne's spatial arrangements, and Henri Matisse's bold, signature color. Here, Dove reinterprets the traditional artistic subject of a still life in a modern style. Dove represents a splendid repast of ripe fruit and a lobster arranged on a cloth-covered table, against a vividly patterned wallpaper suggestive of a middle-class home. When he left Europe to return home to America the following year, Dove left the painting behind to be exhibited at the 1909 Salon d'Automne, the Parisian showcase for progressive, modern art. In 1910, Dove was introduced to Alfred Stieglitz and was included in his influential exhibition of the same year Younger American Painters. American critics, rather conventional in their tastes and unaccustomed to modernist works, denounced Lobster's "radical" French traits such as its high key colors, thickly applied paint (impasto), and the tilt of the table, which flattens the picture plane. Lobster was the last representational image Dove painted.

Oil on canvas - Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, TX

Nature Symbolized No, 2 (1911)

Nature Symbolized No, 2

Rather than try faithfully reproducing elements of nature, Dove stove as a painter to capture its spiritual aspects, bringing attention to those movements and lifecycles beyond the human eye. The heart of Dove's artistic philosophy was the articulation of "essences" that would transmit this sense of the spiritual in nature. These "essences" were biomorphic shapes that represented different kinds of energy or organic evolution, suggesting an inner principle of inherent reality. In this work, curvilinear forms and shades of green relate a sense of growth and also, movements in nature, evoking the sensation of greenery being rustled by the wind. His early abstractions, especially the large pastel paintings on linen such as this work, are part of his effort to capture these transitory effects.

Large pastel paintings on linen - The Art Institute of Chicago

The Critic (1925)

The Critic

For this whimsical piece, Dove pasted together art auction advertisements, art reviews, and exhibition announcements. Few American artists prior to World War II made collages, and Dove was the most proficient artist to do so. In Europe, Braque and Picasso had explored the compositional interplay between painted and glued-on elements, while Dada artists introduced the political, the irrational, and the satirical in their collages. In addition to these European precedents, Dove could have also been inspired by 19th-century American folk art such as work by Victorian amateurs and the Shakers; folk art was then in vogue in America. Here, Dove has created a pointed commentary on the critic Forbes Watson of whom the artist was himself highly critical. Watson's empty head and idle monocle hanging from his neck provides telling clues about the uselessness of the critic's word and judgment. The vacuum cleaner that the critic holds and the roller skates that he wears, both cut from newspaper, diminish any sense of the man's authority. Dove's The Critic, through its light humor, reveals tensions between the old guard and modern artists in America.

Collaged paper, newspaper, fabric, cord, glass, pencil, and watercolor on board - Whitney Museum of American Art

Foghorns (1929)


There is a visceral, experiential aspect to viewing this work by Dove, which interprets the sound of foghorns in the mist. As the sounds echo, they become more diffuse in color and form, yet pulsate within the viewer's mind and body. Dove recasts an aural experience into one that is visual. Here, the haunting sound of a foghorn is evoked by three overlapping concentric rings of paint, growing in lightening tones of pink emanating outward from a dark center. Dove explored the psychological state of synesthesia, a condition in which sounds could be experienced and portrayed as colors or shapes, making the work descriptive, yet abstract. What he achieved was a lyrical distillation of form, color, and line that poetically celebrates a deep attunement with nature and its forces. Rather than the long and rich tradition of representational images of nature, Dove has eschewed the unessential to release its spiritual aspects and place the viewer in immediate contact with natural forms, removing himself as the intermediary.

Oil on canvas - Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Colorado

Swing Music (Louis Armstrong) (1938)

Swing Music (Louis Armstrong)

Jazz in the 1920s and 1930s was considered red hot and modern. Created primarily by African Americans, such as renowned trumpeter Louis Armstrong, jazz and its performers represented a break from Euro-American culture and traditions, and thereby, were uniquely American. A dedicated music fan and amateur musician, Dove sought to connect his painting with sound and music, which he believed were able to convey pure emotion without referring to the material world. In the late 1920s, Dove started listening to the radio while painting, especially jazz and swing. To Dove and others, Armstrong's signature playing evoked the dynamism of modern life. Alfred Stieglitz exhibited Dove's paintings inspired by what he heard on the radio at his gallery, An American Place. Here, the pulsating red forms, irregular and improvisational, capture the raw exuberance of jazz and swing for the viewer to sense fully.

Emulsion, oil, and wax on canvas - The Art Institute of Chicago

Me and the Moon (1937)

Me and the Moon

While previously this work has been solely considered to be Dove's personal vision of his natural surroundings, recent examination of his diaries and correspondences from the late 1930s reveal a more complex tale. Dove painted this work while his beloved wife and creative inspiration, Reds, was absent for two months tending to her infirmed mother. Dove, who created approximately 17 canvases related to music, began listening daily to the radio for companionship and inspiration. Both he and Reds referred to the paintings of the late-1930s, such as Me and the Moon, as "From the Radio" works. He took the painting's title from a popular song of the day. In Reds's absence, Dove began tracking the moon for two months in his diaries, only stopping when his wife returned. Influenced by the writings of Henri Bergson, Dove saw the moon as his living companion. Me and the Moon has been called one of the culminating works of his career. It reveals Dove's deep and personal connection to the natural world, and also, how nature became a vehicle for Dove to express his inner, emotional world.

1937 - The Phillips Collection, Washington DC

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Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Arthur Dove Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 05 Jul 2014. Updated and modified regularly
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