Dorothy Dehner (1901 - 1994)
Chess Set, c. 1993
Height: 2 - 4 inches
conceived in 1957, cast in 1993-4
Signed and numbered / From an edition of 25
Dorothy Dehner was born in Cleveland, Ohio, but moved to Pasadena, California in 1916 after the death of her parents. She majored in drama at UCLA for the school year of 1922-1923, then moved to New York City to study acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Art.
In 1925 Dehner entered the Art Students League to study sculpture, but switched to painting because she felt the former was bound in academic formula. She studied drawing with Kimon Nicolaides and painting with Kenneth Hayes Miller. In 1929, she studied painting with Jan Matulka. Meeting artist John Graham in that year, he introduced her to Milton Avery, Stuart Davis, and Arshile Gorky. She would also take art courses years later at Skidmore College in 1951.
Early in her career she was known for painting and for large-cast metal sculptures, but in the 1950s and 1960s, turned increasingly to wood cut into hard-edge geometric shapes. From 1950, she lived primarily in New York City.
Dehner married sculptor David Smith in 1927. Although she painted and drew Cubist and Surrealist works during their marriage, and realistic ones of life on their Bolton Landing, New York farm during the period 1941 to 1944, Dehner would essentially put her exhibition life on hold until their divorce in 1952.
Although she had shown in the 1946 Audubon Artists exhibition, winning first prize in drawing, and in the Whitney Annual of 1951, it was the year of her divorce, 1952, that Dehner had her first one-person exhibition at the Rose Fried Gallery in New York City.
She met Louise Nevelson in the same year while making prints at Stanley Hayter's Atelier 17. It was at this time that her career began to take off, and she was working with the lost-wax sculptural process in the making of her bronzes. The following year, 1953, the Museum of Modern Art added one of her watercolors to its collection, and she was in a group exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 1955, she was in a three-artist show at Willard Gallery in New York City, where she would exhibit through 1976, and a one-person exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Dehner was a visiting artist at the Tamarind Institute Lithography Workshop in 1970-1971, awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Skidmore College in 1982, and received an award from the Women's Caucus for Art in 1983. She had major retrospective exhibitions of her work at the Jewish Museum in New York in 1965, City University of New York, 1991, Katonah Museum of Art, 1993, and Cleveland Museum of Art, 1995.
Dehner's work can be found in the public collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City; Museum of Modern Art, New York City; Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City, among others.