Dear Dove, Dear Phillips, Dear Stieglitz: The Geneva Years

Through correspondence in the Phillips archives, photographs, and more, the Reading Room exhibition Dear Dove, Dear Phillips, Dear Stieglitz explores the relationship between artist, patron, and gallery dealer.

Read THE EARLY YEARS, 1912-1933

THE GENEVA YEARS, 1933-1938

In 1933, following the death of his mother, Arthur Dove moved to Geneva, New York, to settle his family’s estate. Dove was ambivalent about going home—he found the landscape inspiring but practical problems took valuable time away from painting. Conditions in their farmhouse were primitive and Dove reported to Phillips that when the temperature hit minus 33 degrees he and his wife ran back and forth between three wood burning stoves to keep warm. In a later letter, Dove wrote Phillips, “Your idea of doubling the subsidy in the spring is marvelous and really gives me the much longed for privilege of planning for extensive work ahead. This going out to paint then rushing back and slamming the door quickly to keep the wolf out is not soothing to the nerves.”

During their final year in Geneva, the Doves moved into town and lived in the Dove Block, a commercial building on one of the city’s main corners that had been erected by his father. Dove set up his studio on the entire third floor, previously home to a roller skating rink. The artist was ecstatic about being able to hang so many of his paintings on the wall at once.

Dove Block, Geneva, New York, Studio Wall installation, 1938

Dove Block, Geneva, New York, Studio Wall installation, 1938

Dove’s studio at the Dove Block—measuring 60-by-70-square feet and surrounded by 10-foot windows—was the largest he ever had. The space was comfortable and had plenty of light and heat. Dove wrote Elmira Bier, Phillips’s executive assistant, “This place is immense. I hope that the feeling of space will creep into the coming paintings.”

Arthur Dove, Sun Drawing Water, 1933

Arthur Dove, Sun Drawing Water, 1933, Oil on canvas, 24 3/8 x 33 5/8 in., The Phillips Collection, Acquired 1933

Duncan Phillips acquired this painting the same year it was created. The title refers to a poem written by Dove: “Works of nature are abstract/They do not lean on other things for meaning/The sun draws water from the sea.” Ribbon-like lines that refer to the unseen forces of nature flutter in the air above an undulating sea. Dove completed Sun Drawing Water in two weeks.

Duncan Phillips to Alfred Stieglitz, January 18, 1933

Duncan Phillips to Alfred Stieglitz, January 18, 1933

Phillips wrote Stieglitz to tell him the good news that his wife, Marjorie, who shared his concern about Dove’s urgent need for financial assistance, decided to give Dove a contribution of 200 dollars which she had earned from the proceeds of a recent sale of one of her paintings to the Whitney Museum of American Art. Phillips mentioned the possibility of purchasing Red Barge from Dove as long as he could acquire it at a discount.

Alfred Stieglitz to Duncan Phillips, April 7, 1937

Alfred Stieglitz to Duncan Phillips, April 7, 1937

Stieglitz expressed his hope to see Phillips at his New York gallery soon. After Duncan and Marjorie visited Stieglitz and saw Dove’s exhibition, Stieglitz wrote Phillips on April 12, “I can’t tell you what your visit and that of Mrs. Phillips yesterday and today meant to me.”

Stay tuned for Part III (The Geneva Years) of this series and visit the Reading Room to see the exhibition.

Dear Dove, Dear Phillips, Dear Stieglitz: The Early Years

[Arthur] Dove’s relationship with my father [Duncan Phillips]—launched, controlled, and sometimes distorted by the redoubtable Alfred Stieglitz—must stand as one of the most interesting and productive artist-patron relationships of modern times . . . Dove was the model of what [my father] wanted most to encourage—the independent artist with a powerful, fresh, and highly personal vision.—Laughlin Phillips

Through correspondence in the Phillips archives, photographs, and more, the Reading Room exhibition Dear Dove, Dear Phillips, Dear Stieglitz explores the relationship between artist, patron, and gallery dealer.

THE EARLY YEARS, 1912-1933

Photograph of Arthur Dove on board the Mona

From 1924 to 1933, Arthur Dove lived on a 42-foot-long sailboat, the Mona, with his second wife, Helen “Reds” Torr, who was also a painter. They sailed around Long Island Sound, near Huntington Harbor.

Arthur Dove (1880-1946) grew up in Geneva, New York. He attended Cornell University, where he took classes in pre-law to please his father and studied art to please himself. Following graduation, he became an illustrator, and eventually dedicated himself to painting. In his early work, Dove explored realistic subjects, such as still lifes, but by 1910, deeply influenced by his immersion in nature, he began to work abstractly, creating some of the first abstract paintings in the United States. In 1912, Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), acclaimed photographer and gallery owner representing Georgia O’Keeffe, John Marin, and Marsden Hartley, among others, became Dove’s dealer.

Beginning in 1930, museum founder Duncan Phillips (1886-1966) became Dove’s patron. He sent Dove a check for 50 dollars a month (which gradually increased to 200 a month) in exchange for first choice of the artist’s paintings that were exhibited at Stieglitz’s gallery. Phillips responded to Dove’s simple way of life and his independence from European art movements. The Phillips Collection gave Dove his first museum retrospective in 1937 and owns 56 works by the artist—the largest collection of works by Dove in the world. Artist, patron, and gallery dealer exchanged hundreds of letters from 1926 to 1946, the year that Dove and Stieglitz died.

Letter from Arthur Dove to Duncan Phillips, 1927

Duncan Phillips to Arthur Dove, December 19, 1927

This is the first letter that Arthur Dove wrote to Duncan Phillips. The artist invited the collector to see his exhibition at Stieglitz’s 291 gallery in New York: “Your interest in my paintings leaves me free to tell you that I think a vital step has been taken in modern expression with the later ones. Yesterday on seeing the new paintings hung together for the first time I felt that there was beauty there that had gone much farther toward a new reality of my own. I feel that you should and will go to see them.”

Letter from Stieglitz to DP February 1 1926

Alfred Stieglitz to Duncan Phillips, February 1, 1926

Alfred Stieglitz and Duncan Phillips conducted a lively correspondence for 20 years. In this letter, Stieglitz aligns himself with Phillips’s growing predilection for innovative work by American artists: “What naturally interested me most is your growing interest in the gallant experiments of the living American modernists in which I am so much interested.” Several years later, Stieglitz reported to Phillips that he felt that the work of Dove, John Marin, and Georgia O’Keeffe was “of greater freshness and significance than anything being done in Europe.”

Dove, Arthur G., Golden Storm, 1925, Oil and metallic paint on plywood panel 18 9/16 x 20 1/2 in., The Phillips Collection, Acquired 1926

Arthur Dove, Golden Storm, 1925, Oil and metallic paint on plywood panel, 18 9/16 x 20 1/2 in.; The Phillips Collection, Acquired 1926

Golden Storm (1925) and Waterfall (1925) were created on Dove’s sailboat in Huntington Harbor. Though small in scale due to limited working space, both works suggest the monumental. A suspenseful image of choppy waves raging beneath a threatening sky, Golden Storm reflects Dove’s constant experimentation with new media. He avidly read books on materials and techniques and often ground his own pigments. In this painting Dove made liberal use of metallic paint, creating a subtle, iridescent effect. Phillips expressed concern about the longevity of the delicate surface, but Dove assured him that it would not fade. Golden Storm and Waterfall were the first works by Dove purchased by Phillips and the first paintings by Dove acquired by a museum.

Stay tuned for Part II (The Centerport Years) and Part III (The Geneva Years) of this series and visit the Reading Room to see the exhibition.

When Art Imitates Work: Amnesty International Visits The Warmth of Other Suns

Since opening day, The Warmth of Other Suns: Stories of Global Displacement has been resonating with visitors from all walks of life. We have welcomed many groups that work with immigrants and refugees, including Amnesty International USA’s Advocacy and Government Affairs team. Because their global priorities are grounded in protecting refugees, asylum seekers, and displaced persons, their recent guided tour shed a unique light on the work they do every day.

Grassroots Advocacy & Refugee Specialist Ryan Mace shared the significance of the group’s visit with Phillips DEAI intern Gia Harewood:

GH: What specific ties did you see to the work that you all do?
RM: It was impactful to see how the Phillips has so poignantly presented the humanity of people on the move across so many mediums. Just before World Refugee Day this year we issued a report titled “The Mountain is in Front of Us and the Sea is Behind Us,” detailing the human impact of US policies on refugees in Lebanon and Jordan.

Walking through the exhibition, it wasn’t hard to see the intersections with that report—human beings are always on the move, sometimes by choice, sometimes by force, or because there are no other choices left. No matter the reason, they all have unique stories that should be told.

GH: Was there anything that particularly resonated with you?
RM: The painting of refugees on the Island of Lesbos [by Liu Xiaodong] was beautiful, particularly as we’ve covered that extensively. Additionally, the piece [by Siah Armajani] that had models of the various rooms that migrants are forced to wait or live in was likely the one that resonated most with me. We’ve been looking at the increased use of detention of migrants for a number of years.

LIU XIAODONG b. 1963, Liaoning Province, China; lives in Beijing, China Refugees 4, 2015 Oil on canvas Courtesy of the artist and Massimo De Carlo, Milan, London, Hong Kong

Liu Xiaodong, Refugees 4, 2015, Oil on canvas, Courtesy of the artist and Massimo De Carlo, Milan, London, Hong Kong

Recently we published a report titled “No Home For Children” detailing the Homestead “Temporary Emergency” Facility which houses unaccompanied children. While there, we saw the rooms where children are held, and when I saw this particular artwork my mind was immediately brought back to Homestead, thinking how these are the rooms that welcome children to America. Is this the vision of welcome we want to give them?

SIAH ARMAJANI b. 1939, Tehran, Iran; lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA Seven Rooms of Hospitality, 2017 3-D printed models Courtesy of the artist and Rossi & Rossi

Installation view of The Warmth of Other Suns, on the left is Siah Armajani, Seven Rooms of Hospitality, 2017, 3-D printed models, Courtesy of the artist and Rossi & Rossi. Photo: Lee Stalsworth

Photos of artwork by Siah Armajani clockwise from top left: Room for Detainees, 2017; Room for Deportees, 2017; Room for Displaced, 2017; Room for Asylum Seekers, 2017

Clockwise from top left: Room for Detainees, 2017; Room for Deportees, 2017; Room for Displaced, 2017; Room for Asylum Seekers, 2017

GH: What do you want the public to know about Amnesty International?
RM: Amnesty International is a global movement of more than seven million people—including over two million members and supporters here in the USA—who campaign for a world where human rights are enjoyed by all. Our vision is for every person to enjoy all the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards.

We campaign to make sure governments honor their shared responsibility to protect the rights of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants. Therefore, we condemn any policies or practices that undermine the rights of people on the move.

To learn more about Amnesty International’s work, visit https://www.amnesty.org/en/

-Gia Harewood, DEAI Intern