Arthur Wesley Dow (1857 - 1922)
Ipswich, Massachusetts, 1881
Oil on canvas
16 x 24 inches
Gilded oak Watts style frame
Mrs. Arthur Wesley Dow, by inheritance
Mr. & Mrs. Dana Dow, the artist’s brother and his wife
Mrs. Ethelwyn Humphrey Putnam, La Mesa, California
Harvey Short, La Mesa and Escondido, California
Mr. & Mrs. Byron Short
Tim Mason, Pacific Grove, California, by 1990
Private Collection, Massachusetts, until present
A Letter of Authenticity from Frederick Moffatt accompanies the painting
A native of Ipswich, Massachusetts, Arthur Wesley Dow received a traditional arts education in accordance with the standards of the French Academy. A student of both the Ecole Nationale Des Arts Decratifs as well as the more progressive Academie Julian, Dow supplemented his education in 1886 with an extended stay in Brittany where Gaugin and Emil Bernard were also working.
Upon his return to the United States Dow grew increasingly disillusioned by the Academy’s primary pedagogical method that demanded the faithful reproduction of canonical works from antiquity. Unable to accept pure imitation as his own artistic truth, Dow immersed himself in the study of non-western arts in search of the beauty he believed could be unveiled through design and form alone. Dow discovered a book of Hokusai prints that became the source of the artistic enlightenment he could not find in Paris.
Dow is best known for his theories that fused Japanese aesthetic principles of “harmonious spacing” with a conscious rejection of the French Academy’s values regarding compositional design. A dedicated educator, Dow imbued his beliefs in his students who worked in a broad range of mediums.
With a fervent belief that the future of American society depended on a greater appreciation of the beauty that can be found in everyday life, Dow opened an art school of his own in Ipswich. Discussing the inception of the school Dow asserted that “The day is dawning when America will have an art of her own founded upon her own history and character...we are developing art as enthusiastically as we developed science...it will surely end in a powerful, distinctly American school” (Frederick C. Moffatt, “Arthur Wesley Dow and the Ipswich School,” The New England Quarterly : 344.).
Dow’s own works “exude a serenity in keeping with his larger philosophical agenda” (Leah Ollman, “Arthur Wesley Dow: Democratizing Art,” Art in America : 65). His notions on the aesthetics of harmonious spacing and compositional design have led art historians to consider Dow’s work as the theoretical foundation for American Modernism.