In the late 1930s, after nearly two decades of makeshift living, first on a houseboat, then in ramshackle farmhouses, and finally even in a former roller-skating rink, Arthur Dove and his wife, Helen Torr [1998.15], moved again, this time to an abandoned post office in Centerport, Long Island....
In the late 1930s, after nearly two decades of makeshift living, first on a houseboat, then in ramshackle farmhouses, and finally even in a former roller-skating rink, Arthur Dove and his wife, Helen Torr [1998.15], moved again, this time to an abandoned post office in Centerport, Long Island. Shortly thereafter, Dove, who was approaching sixty, fell ill. His health often completely prevented him from working; at other times his world consisted only of what he could see through the windshield of his car as he drove from his house to Centerport Harbor, a half mile away. Nonetheless, during these years he produced some of the most powerful and affirming pictures of his career. The genesis of That Red One was a tiny watercolor, about three by four inches (7.6 by 10.2 centimeters), which Dove most likely painted while sitting in his car. Like the landscape painters of the nineteenth century, Dove sketched from nature constantly, and these sketches (and the large paintings he based on them) reflect his translation of what he saw into simple colors and shapes. By the 1940s he had moved from a biomorphic, linear style to forms that were geometric and colors that were bold, flat, and clear. That Red One, with its brownish-purple oval hovering over two red bars and angled shapes of intense yellow, orange, and blue, probably represents a mundane subject—a view through trees across a pond at sunrise. The result, however, was triumphant. Dove spoke about wanting to show the “point where abstraction and reality meet,” and in doing so he created an icon of modern art, a vision of nature that is both evocative and timeless.  Notes 1. Arthur Garfield Dove, diary, August 20, 1942, Dove Papers, reel 725, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. This text was adapted from Elliot Bostwick Davis et al., American Painting [http://www.mfashop.com/9020398034.html], MFA Highlights (Boston: MFA Publications, 2003).
Lower center: Dove
1944, the artist. By 1949, with Downtown Gallery, New York; 1957, sold by the Downtown Gallery to the William H. Lane Foundation; 1990, gift of the William H. Lane Foundation to the MFA. (Accession Date: September 18, 1990)
Gift of the William H. Lane Foundation
© Estate of Arthur G. Dove