In his images of nature, Dove sought out underlying formal and color relationships and his compositions often bordered on the completely abstract. In Sun on the Lake, however, his subject is simplified but recognizable. Bands of limited hues subtly play off each other in the organic rhythms of...
In his images of nature, Dove sought out underlying formal and color relationships and his compositions often bordered on the completely abstract. In Sun on the Lake, however, his subject is simplified but recognizable. Bands of limited hues subtly play off each other in the organic rhythms of water, sky, and sun. At the same time, closer scrutiny reveals the artist’s careful and sophisticated study of pure color as light, especially in the blues of the sky and the undulating waves of the lake. Dove painted Sun on the Lake in 1938, the last year he lived in Geneva, New York. This composition was likely inspired by nearby Seneca Lake, but the exact location is unimportant. The elements of the scene were those that Dove had worked with frequently throughout his career: the sun or the moon as a subject, often with water. These provided him with the tools to explore infinite variations of color and shape. Sun on the Lake looks forward to Dove’s last decade of work, when his paintings were powerful, densely colored, and spare. At this time, Dove based many of his compositions on small watercolors which he sketched out of doors. One such work, also called Sun on the Lake [1997.65] and made in 1938, was likely used as a study for this oil. The images are closely related, but Dove used to advantage the qualities of each medium: in the watercolor, the white of the paper evokes the sun’s rays dancing on the water’s surface, whereas in the painting, Dove employed lighter blues to suggest light on the lake. Dove investigated different media throughout his career. He often combined different materials—metal, oil paint, gauze, sand—but by the mid-1930s, he had changed the physical make-up of his paint. His experiments began after he read a 1934 translation of Max Doerner’s The Materials of the Artist and Their Use in Painting, in which the author described the “misty, pleasingly dull and mat appearance, and great brightness and clarity” an artist could achieve by mixing oil, wax, and resin together.  The effect of these mixed ingredients can be seen in Sun on the Lake, where they serve to enrich the tones of each band of color, while creating the feeling of the overall brilliance of the light. Notes 1. Quoted in Elizabeth Hutton Turner, “Going Home: Geneva, 1933–1938,” in Arthur Dove: A Retrospective, by Debra Bricker Balkan, William C. Agee, and Elizabeth Hutton Turner, exh. cat. (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1997), 104. Karen E. Quinn
Lower center: Dove
1938, the artist. By 1947, the Downtown Gallery, New York; 1954, sold by the Downtown Gallery to William H. Lane (1914-1995); 1990, partial purchase and gift of William H. and Saundra B. Lane to the MFA. (Accession Date: June 27, 1990)
Gift of William H. and Saundra B. Lane and Juliana Cheney Edwards Collection, Bequest of Robert J. Edwards and Gift of the Misses Hannah Marcy and Grace Edwards, by exchange
© Estate of Arthur G. Dove