The papers of artists Arthur and Helen Torr Dove measure 3 linear feet and date from 1905 to 1975, with the bulk of material dating from 1920 to 1946. Arthur Dove's life as an artist, and his life with the artist Helen Torr, are documented in biographical narratives, personal documents, an audio recording, correspondence, diaries, essays, poetry, notes, exhibition catalogs, clippings, magazine illustrations, pamphlets, receipts, an accounting ledger, tax records, sketches, and photographs.
Scope and Content Note:
The papers of Arthur and Helen Torr Dove measure 3 linear feet and date from 1905 to 1975, with the bulk of material dating from 1920 to 1946. Arthur Dove's life as an artist, and his life with the artist Helen Torr, are documented in biographical narratives, personal documents, an audio recording, correspondence, diaries, essays, poetry, notes, exhibition catalogs, clippings, magazine illustrations, pamphlets, receipts, an accounting ledger, tax records, sketches, and photographs.
Biographical Materials include a last will and testament, biographical narratives, and other official documents, as well as an audio recording of an interview with William Dove made around 1961 by George Wolfer. Correspondence includes letters from friends, clients, other artists, and Dove's patron Duncan Phillips. There is also correspondence with family members Helen Torr and Paul Dove. Drafts of outgoing letters from Dove to various correspondents including Phillips and Alfred Stieglitz are found.
Writings are extensive and include diaries, autobiographical essays, essays about art, artists, and other subjects, and poetry by Arthur Dove; as well as essays, reminiscences, and notes of Helen Torr. Printed Materials include exhibition catalogs for Dove's shows and the shows of other artists in the Stieglitz Circle, examples of Dove's early magazine illustration work, newspaper reviews of Dove's exhibitions, and various pamphlets related to modern art. Personal Business Records include an accounting ledger of the Doves' expenses, sales receipts, tax records, and an undated art inventory. Artwork consists of ten items, mostly sketches in pencil, watercolor, ink, and colored pencil. Photographs are undated and unidentified, but depict mostly family, homes, and coastal scenes.
The collection is arranged into 7 series:
Series 1: Biographical Materials, 1928-1937, circa 1961 (Box 1; 2 folders)
Series 2: Correspondence, circa 1920-1974 (Box 1; 0.8 linear feet)
Series 3: Writings, circa 1924-1945 (Boxes 1-3; 1.5 linear feet)
Series 4: Printed Materials, circa 1905-1975 (Box 3; 0.3 linear feet)
Series 5: Personal Business Records, circa 1921-1965 (Box 3; 0.3 linear feet)
Series 6: Artwork, undated (Box 3; 1 folder)
Series 7: Photographs, 1909, undated (Box 3; 4 folders)
Arthur Garfield Dove was an early twentieth-century painter, collagist, and illustrator who was one of the first American artists to embrace abstraction in art. He was a part of Alfred Stieglitz's Circle of modern American artists introduced at Stieglitz's 291 Gallery along with John Marin and Georgia O'Keeffe. Dove spent his career developing his own idiosyncratic style of formal abstraction in painting based on his ideas about nature, feeling, and pure form, and characterized by experimentation with color, composition, and materials.
Born in Canandiagua, NY in 1880, Dove grew up in the small, rural town of Geneva, NY. He was first exposed to art by a local farmer and painter named Newton Weatherly, who gave him canvas and paint, and who Dove himself cited as an early influence. Dove went to Cornell University to study law, but soon shifted to art and illustration. He graduated in 1903 and quickly became a success as a magazine illustrator, working for Collier's, McClure's, St. Nicholas, and The Illustrated Sporting News, among other publications. In 1904, he married Florence Dorsey, a Geneva woman, and they lived in New York City. Their son, William Dove, was born in 1910.
In 1908 the couple traveled to Paris to enable Dove to pursue his interest in painting. In Paris, he met Alfred Maurer, Jo Davidson, and other American artists living abroad. The influence of his European and expatriate contemporaries would prove to be a lasting one, exposing him to ideas about abstraction and experimentation that he would develop in his work for the rest of his life.
Soon after Dove's return to the United States, he met Alfred Stieglitz and began a lifelong friendship. Stieglitz ran the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, which came to be known as 291, in New York. His daring, avant-garde exhibitions of both European and American modern art at 291 provided a venue and gathering-place for progressive American artists that was unique for its time. Dove's first solo exhibition at 291 was held in 1912, and consisted of ten pastel drawings that have come to be known as the "Ten Commandments." The attention it received established Dove as a prominent abstract painter.
Around 1920, Dove met another Westport artist named Helen S. Torr, also known as Reds. A Philadelphia-born painter who had studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, Reds was married at the time to the cartoonist Clive Weed. Torr and Dove eventually left their unhappy marriages and began a life together, moving to a houseboat docked in Manhattan. In 1922, they moved to Halesite, Long Island, New York, where Dove's artwork once again flourished. By the mid-1920s, he was exhibiting regularly, paralleled by the rise of Stieglitz's new Intimate Gallery in 1925. His work continued to explore abstraction and organic forms, and, in addition to paintings, he produced assemblages made of found materials.
Although a building teardown brought the Intimate Gallery to a sudden end in 1929, the financial support of friends enabled Alfred Stieglitz to open An American Place soon thereafter. There Stieglitz would focus on the work of a few American artists, including Dove, John Marin, and Georgia O'Keeffe. Helen Torr was also exhibited at An American Place, in a group show with Arthur in 1933. It was also at this gallery that the art collector Duncan Phillips was introduced to Dove's artwork. Phillips' interest in Dove grew into an ongoing patronage of Dove that would see them through the Depression and periods of serious illness in the 1930s and 1940s. Their arrangement, whereby Phillips had first refusal on all of Dove's new artwork, enabled him to gradually assemble the largest collection of Dove's work held anywhere.
In 1938, while on a trip to New York to attend his exhibition, Dove became suddenly ill. Although he recovered somewhat that year, his health never entirely returned to normal, and he spent long periods during what remained of his life housebound and in a wheelchair. He and Reds bought a home in Centreport, on Long Island, where they would stay the rest of his life. In 1939 he was so ill that neither his family nor Stieglitz thought he would ever paint again. Despite his physical limitations, he continued to work, turning to the less physically strenuous media of drawing and watercolor, and produced new work for five solo exhibitions in the 1940s. His work of this period embraces pure abstraction more fully than ever, and is regarded by some to be a culmination or crystallization of his singular style and approach to abstract painting.
Arthur Dove suffered a stroke in 1946 and died that November, just four months after his lifelong friend and mentor Alfred Stieglitz died of a heart attack. Reds lived until 1967 in their Centreport home. Dove's importance to American art has since been recognized with more than a dozen retrospective exhibitions at major museums and galleries.
This biography relied heavily on the monograph Arthur Dove: Life and Work, with a Catalogue Raisonné (1984) by Ann Lee Morgan.
The Archives of American Art also holds microfilm of material lent for microfilming. Reel 725 contains Arthur Dove's letters from Alfred Stieglitz (1918-1946) and Georgia O'Keeffe (1921-1948), and two letters from William Einstein (1937). The original letters were later donated to the Beinecke Library at Yale University, which holds the Stieglitz/O'Keeffe Archives. Reel 2803 contains photocopies of Arthur Dove's card catalog of paintings that were discarded after microfilming. This material is not described in the collection container inventory.
The papers of Arthur and Helen Torr Dove were loaned to the Archives of American Art by Arthur Dove's son, William Dove, for microfilming in several increments between 1970 and 1975. The papers were later donated to the Archives by William Dove via the Terry Distenfass Gallery of New York City in multiple accessions between 1982 and 1989, with two major exceptions: 177 letters from Alfred Stieglitz, sixteen letters from Georgia O'Keeffe, and two letters from William Einstein; and Arthur Dove's card catalog of paintings, a photocopy of which had been loaned for microfilming. The papers were digitized in 2006.
The collection is open for research. Microfilmed and digitized portions must be consulted on microfilm or the Archives website. Use of unmicrofilmed, undigitized portion requires an appointment.
The Arthur and Helen Torr Dove papers are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.