Arthur Dove 1880-1946

Italy Goes to War

  • 3 1/8 x 7 3/8 inches (7.9 x 18.7 cm)
  • Watercolor
  • Signed lower middle: Dove
  • 1941

Why We Love It

Small perfect things have a particular appeal for us. Italy Goes To War, despite its diminutive scale, was lovingly and meticulously created by Arthur Dove. The colors, taken from the Italian flag are fresh and bright. Black ink has been carefully leeched through sand to form a hazy aura on the edges of Dove’s composition. This small abstraction is a perfect expression of Dove’s work.

The Value

Arthur Dove’s prominent place in the pantheon of American art is undisputed. The addition of a fine example of his work should be a goal for any serious collector. Dove loved to work in a small scale. The size of this work is neither an anomaly nor a detriment.

Artist Background

1880: Born in Canandaigua, NY; 1903: Studied at Cornell University; 1903-07: Worked as a commercial illustrator for such magazines as Collier’s, The Saturday Evening Post, Harper’s and Life; 1908-09: Studied painting in Paris; 1910-1946: Became a close friend and associate of Alfred Stieglitz, who championed Dove’s work in numerous exhibitions at his “291” Gallery, “Intimate Gallery,” and An American Place; 1946: Died

Largely considered the first American painter to execute a completely abstract painting, Arthur Dove endeavored throughout his career to remain true to his singular artistic vision.  Although this is not to say he was without influence. Early in his career in 1907 he traveled to France where he took great interest in the work of the Fauves.  Upon his return to the States in 1909 he met Alfred Stieglitz, with whom he would develop an enduring friendship and business relationship.  In 1910 with Stieglitz’s support Dove painted one of the first truly abstract paintings, which inaugurated the advent of abstraction in American art.

For Dove the purpose of painting abstractly was to extract and capture the essence of the subject. These “essences” or “extractions,” as they were called, were meant to symbolize the basic elements of the natural world: force, growth, life.  Dove based his compositions on the pulsating energy of nature, and he used basic organic shapes to comprise his paintings.  The bold contrasts of geometric forms set in open spaces acted as remarkable precedents for American’s postwar abstractions.

In Italy Goes to War all of the hallmarks of Dove’s artistic style are present.  Despite the work’s small size, the composition barely contains the energy that emanates from the forms. He uses a highly worked line to create a sense of agitation, even anxiety.  By abstracting the historical event Dove brilliantly captures the indecision, the chaos, and the perceived consequences of Italy’s entry into the war.  As ever Dove used the artistic method he developed and consistently maintained throughout his career, and in doing so created a work that speaks to his deep interest in the philosophies of modern art and life and a work of art’s ability to capture and era’s life force.