DescriptionARTHUR WESLEY DOW (American, 1857-1922)
A Maine Headland (Rocky Coast)
Oil on canvas board
12 x 16 inches (30.5 x 40.6 cm)
Signed lower left: Arthur W. Dow
Pencil notation verso: A Maine Headland
THE JEAN AND GRAHAM DEVOE WILLIFORD CHARITABLE TRUST
sale, Doyle, New York, November 17, 1993, Lot 21 A.
We are grateful to Dow specialist Frederick C. Moffatt, Professor Emeritus, School of Art, University of Tennessee, Knoxville for endorsing a full attribution to the artist and for preparing the following catalogue essay.
This scene portrays a bright summer morning. In the middle distance is a large mound, its sides clad by tilted shelves of red-violet rocks, its top and flanks thinly carpeted by grass. At the viewer's right, the protuberance suddenly gives way, causing a rocky cliff to descend to the water's edge at a 45 degree angle. The cliff is cast into dark-blue shadows. The fore area is also under shadow. It is dominated by a low bench of rocks which vary in hue from pink-violet, to burnt umber, to a brownish mustard. Between it and the base of the mound is a wedge of cobalt-blue ocean. A white capped wave has just crashed into the rocks. Almost as arresting as the central monolith is a massive, sharply fractured, boulder at the left which, because of its precarious positioning, seems about to tumble downward. The bright glare of the sun essentially divides this megalith into two flatly painted planes, the illuminated side burnt sienna in color, the shadowed side a warm black. Throughout the painting, but especially with the stony platform of the foreground, the paint applique is vigorous , indelicate, even "primitive," in a modern sense of that word -- I am thinking here of Marsden Hartley's masterful Fox Island, Georgetown, Maine, of 1937. Further promoting the idea of unrelenting force is the fact that the artist of A Maine Headland often resorts to the use of a black slashing line to suggest the contours of forms.
Arthur Wesley Dow (1857-1922) was a painter, printmaker, teacher, photographer, ceramicist, world traveler and author who in his free hours resided at his birthplace of Ipswich, Massachusetts. While teaching at the Pratt Institute in New York, the Arts Students League of New York, and finally while serving as director of the Department of Fine Arts at Columbia University's Teachers' College, Dow reordered the priorities of public school art education by introducing into the curriculum the compositional practices of Japanese art. In his own work he became best known for paintings and wood-block prints that featured the common landscape motifs he found in and around Ipswich: haystacks, marsh islands, fishing shacks, old dories, the ever mysterious Ipswich River -- he christened it the "Blue Dragan" -- and moon rises over the marshes. He seems to have made surprisingly few sketching trips to Maine. In the early 1890s, after returning to New England from France, he visited on several occasions Sarah Farmer's religious retreat known as "Green Acres" at Eliot, Maine. He was obviously well aware of the presence at Prout's Neck, Maine, of Winslow Homer, perhaps America's favorite portrayer of stormy seas, and of the many other artists who pictured the spewing waves at Kittery Point, or at Monhegan Island. Regarding coastal haunts, Dow much preferred the white dunes and calm waters of what became Crane Beach at Ipswich, or of Gay Head at Martha's Vineyard off the Massachusetts coast.
I am confident that Dow painted A Maine Headland, but it is perhaps the only rocky seacoast painting he was to produce. His reason for painting it, I believe, was to satisfied his felt need to at least tackle a subject that was alien to him, and to allow his students and patrons to judge the results for themselves.
Estimate: $10,000 - $15,000.
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