Under the Microscope: Primitive Music

Arthur Dove’s Primitive Music (1944) is in the studio for treatment to stabilize flaking paint.

In a diary entry dated May 8, 1944, Arthur Dove describes this painting as a “painting in tempera.”  Often, Dove used a homemade tempera mixture, made from a whole egg, dammar resin, stand oil, and water.  Usually, Dove used tempera for just the first layers of a painting that he then finished with oil paint or wax emulsion.  But in Primitive Music, Dove used the tempera paint on its own, for a smooth, translucent paint film with a velvety, matte surface.

Arthur Dove. Primitive Music, 1944. Gouache on canvas; 18 x 24 in. The Phillips Collection

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