DescriptionARTHUR WESLEY DOW (American, 1857-1922)
Oil on canvasboard
8-1/2 x 10-1/2 inches (21.6 x 26.7 cm)
Signed and dated lower left: Arthur W. Dow 1899
THE JEAN AND GRAHAM DEVOE WILLIFORD CHARITABLE TRUST
sale Bakker/Boccelli, Cambridge, MA, May 22, 1994, lot 41.
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 lot is accompanied by his letter of authenticity.
The view is of two haystacks situated in a freshly mown field either at dawn or evening. Filling the foreground is a light yellow-green field which gradually inclines upward to the viewer's left. Forming a kind of wall, a thick stand of unmown grass, the color of burnished silver, crosses the pasture at middle distance. At far distance looms the ragged black crowns of trees. In the shadows beneath one, the soft glow of ultramarine blue arrests the eye. One haystack is positioned left of center, the other is bisected by the right edge, and two trees overbalance the painting's right side. This built-in asymmetry lends an informality to the composition that is comparable to a photographic snap shot or to the balanced imbalance often attained in their work by Japanese print makers. The sky is broken into three layers, two briskly brushed blue violet cloud banks below and above, and a brightly lit wedge of reflected sun light between them. A small patch of cerulean sky appears amid the radiant wedge . No exacting lines divide one thing from another. Mixed into a paste resembling wet clay, the vigorously brushed surface is made to mimic the characteristic textures of the grasses. The foreground pasture is relatively smooth and has been formed by horizontal brush strokes; chopping verticals are more frequently used for the unmown field. The forms of the haystacks on the other hand are suggested by a skein of thin wispy lines that moved in circular fashion. Occasionally, the artist permitted glimpses of unpainted canvas to add its own raw texture to the painted surfaces of things.
The Haystack is a commonly found object in the work of Dow. For example, in 1900, when he was teaching at the Art Students League of New York, just prior to taking the position as director of the Department of Fine Arts at Columbia University's Teachers College, Dow entered a painting entitled Meadow Hay in the League's twenty-five year anniversary exhibition. Signed and dated 1894 (it is now owned by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities) and measuring 22 1/8 by 35 7/8 inches, Meadow Hay depicts a panorama of haystacks set against the backdrop pf an Ipswich meadow. (I discuss this work in my Arthur Wesley Dow (1857-1922), Smithsonian Institution Press, 1977, 63-4). The painting struck a chord with a local critic who commented in the May 12, 1900 issue of the Boston Evening Transcript: "full of directness and truth to Nature, and yet has at the same time that decorative beauty that Mr. Dow has admired and studied in the work of Japanese artists."
Although among Western landscape artists of his day the haystack was a common commodity, Dow was drawn to those many he observed in Ipswich and Essex County not only because of a sentimental attachment to the man-altered topography of his birthplace, but also because, like his French Impressionist and Barbizon counterparts, he considered them to be transcendent symbols of creativity, moral purpose and spiritual renewal.
I have no reservations in attributing Haystacks to Dow. It was most probably painted in Ipswich and belongs to the best of Dow's signature pieces. What would make it even more complete in this respect would be a rising moon, such as we see it in Meadow Hay.
Paint film in very good stable condition and reasonably clean of accretions and grime. Under UV examination the signature appears to fluoresce slightly suggesting that Dow signed it some time later than the date it was painted. There are also a couple flecks of inpaint at upper left in the sky. Otherwise no evidence of restoration. On the frame's verso, rubbings, scrapes, nail holes, and the torn remnants of a brown paper covering give evidence of age and use. The number 60, along with several illegible ink marks, has been inscribed on the lower span of the verso. Framed Dimensions 12 X 14 Inches
*Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.
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