In this posting I am going to consider the emergence of Modernism in the United States represented By Arthur Dove , John Marin and Joseph Stella.
American art first considers the contribution of John Marin whose art was heavily influenced by the Fauvist work of Henri Mattise.
” John Marin , -however he preferred to use watercolours to achieve this effect and also back in New York at Alfred Stieglitz’s -291 Gallery Marin had discovered the watercolours of Cezanne”..
It is interesting that Marin was influenced by Cezanne who Clement Greenberg said led to cubism , that was the path that Modernism would go. Greenberg an ecletic in my opinion rejected Wassily Kandinsky and the symbolist route to abstraction but instead said from Manet through to Cezanne and then the Cubists. This shows that his prognosis was wrong artists Like Dove, Marin and Stella all Modernists would take different routs to achieve a Modernist palette.
” In Brooklyn Bridge Marin notably uses the diagonal brush strokes typical of Cezanne’s work to break up the form of the bridge”..
Joseph Stella an American of Italian parentage was a futurist and also painted Brooklyn Bridge a completely different painting from Marin’s.
” Here the artist represents the towers and cables of the Brooklyn bridge. Much emphasis is placed upon the gothic arches of the bridge Tower”. .
Being from Italian ancestry Stella woud have been aware of Futurists like Marinetti and Tristan Tsara of which speed was essential.
” The latter work pays homage to early Renaissance paintings of Giotto and Pierra della Francesca particularly through the simplification of forms and bright use of colour”. .
If you look at Arthur Dove’s work you will see the first emergence of abstraction although there is still evidence of figural representations .Full abstraction would not be achieved until the era of Abstract Expressionism and the colour field of Mark Rothko.
” Arthur Dove is often recorded as the first abstract painter in the united states. dove had a wide knowledge of modern European painting having spent much time in Paris in 1907 and 1909, but his main inspiration was always nature itself”. .
In Art spoke Robert Atkins details the role of Alfred Stieglitz and his 291 Gallery.
” 291 Fifth avenue in New York was the address of Alfred Stieglitz’s little galleries of Photo-secession particularly known as 291. Stieglitz along with others founded this Exhibition space in an attic in 1905 to exhibit and promote pictoralist photography. In 1907 Stieglitz expanded the galleries programme to involve Painting”. .
” Among others American artists introduced to the public at 291 was John Marin”..
Referring to Stieglitz’s role Atkins shows him as a champion of Modernist art as Henri was of Realism.
” As the tireless champion of Modernist Art in America he played a role that complemented and opposed that of Robert Henri leader of ‘The Eight’ . Henri supported an anti academic but socially orientated American art Stieglitz battled for anti academic but aesthetically orientated Modernist Art”. .
Baigell in Concise History of American Painting considers the immense role that Stieglitz gave to the Modernists.
” The landscape a traditional American subject played an important role in the subject matter of the Modernists especially for John Marin ,Arthur Dove and (Georgia O’Keefe) (who I will discuss in a separate posting. O’Keefe has a major retrospective showing at Tate Modern . I will try and review the Exhibition at some time). The 3 artists whom Stieglitz considered the most American of all”. .
” At home Stieglitz the photographer served as the articulate and aggressive spokesman for the Modernists. through his magazine ‘Camera Work’ published from 1903-13 and the exhibition space called Little Galleries of the Photo-secessionists (291) created some of the most abstract visuals in any Medium early in the Century”..
Baigell now mentions the contribution of Dove and Marin.
” Arthur Dove and John Marin were also Landscape painters but they tended to seek essences of moods rather reflection of their own anxieties in nature”. .
” Marin expressed similar statements when he observed that the true artist must perforce go from time to time to the elemental big forms-Sky-Sea Mountain plain”. .
Comparing Dove’s paintings with Marin’s it is interesting to observe the different iconography in both sets of pictures. Marin appears to be adopting the same method that Cezanne and the Cubists used to contract and narrow the Picture plane so it looks cramped. Dove’s is the reverse his paintings are flowing structured and you quite clearly see that he is concerned to reveal nature in all its glory.
” Dove described his method of working in language that recalls Ryder’s explanation of his style. I chose 3 forms from the planes, on the side of the trees and 3 colours black and white”. .
Baigell continues his narrative on Dove.
” From these paintings was made a rhymtic painting which expressed the spirit of the whole thing. the colours were chosen to express the substances of those objects and the sky-colours and forms initially similar to the original objects assumed a complexity of shape and hue- a life of their own”. .
” Throughout his career Dove also flavoured his landscapes with symbolic elements. in 1920’s and 1930’s he would visualise fog horns and the sound of music”. .
Baigell now comes on to describe Dove’s use of collages much favoured by Cubist artists as well as Dada artists like Hannah Hoch.
” Between 1924 and 1930 Dove completed 25 collages. collage was a medium that others such as (Max Weber) European painter living in the USA. Had explored years before, but Dove seems to have been credited by a different person one who looked back to Dada collages done by Franz Picabia in New York or later ones by Joseph Stella”..
Baigell makes reference to the fact that both Dove and Marin’s work had seemed to change in structure and visualisation.
” The aura of improvisation hovering over Dove’s work was also present in Marin’s. Both artists apparently were able to extemporise constantly and brilliantly, but Marin seemed to have recorded more directly in emotional responses and visual sensations”. 
” Marin increasingly began to use forms from the environment as spring boards for his emotional outbursts. Spaces became dislocated as recessional movements were manipulated for expressive and compositional purposes”. .
Comparing Marin to Bellows by Baigell in my opinion is irrelevant because Bellows was a realist and Marin was moving towards abstraction with fauvist and Cubist elements.
This concludes my first exploration into the Work of Arthur dove and John Marin Modernists who would lead the way to total abstraction in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. In part 2 I will consider the contribution of the Futurist painter Joseph Stella.
- AMERICAN ART FLAME PUBLISHING .PG.240
- ART SPOKE 1848-1944 ROBERT ATKINS PG.208
- A CONCISE HISTORY OF AMERICAN PAINTING AND SCULPTURE MATTHEW BAIGELL.PG.210
- DITTO.PG. 230.