Lot 36
  • 36

Arthur Garfield Dove 1880 - 1946

400,000 - 600,000 USD
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  • Arthur Garfield Dove
  • Town Scraper
  • signed Dove (lower center)
  • oil on canvas
  • 18 1/4 by 24 inches
  • (46.4 by 61 cm)
  • Painted circa 1933.


An American Place, New York
The Downtown Gallery, New York
Private Collection, California, 1969 (acquired from the above)
By descent in the family to the present owner


Ann Lee Morgan, Arthur Dove: Life and Work, With a Catalogue Raisonné, Cranbury, New Jersey, 1984, no. 33.6, p. 210


The following condition report has been prepared by Simon Parkes Art Conservation: This painting is in lovely condition. The canvas is still stretched on its original stretcher. There is no instability to the paint layer. Despite the fact that some of the pigment is slightly glossy, the painting does not seem to have been recently varnished, and may in fact have never been varnished. The paint layer is cleaned. It seems to be completely undamaged and without any abrasion. Under ultraviolet light, there are very tiny dark colored dots visible in the sky if it is examined closely; these are probably part of the original paint layer and not retouches. In the darker colors of the foreground, Dove's original varnish and glazes do appear rather eccentrically under ultraviolet light. There may be a retouch in the lower left corner, and possibly another in the pale grey color in the lower right corner, but there do not seem to be any other restorations to the work, which is in beautiful condition. The canvas has relaxed slightly on its stretcher; it is not necessarily recommended to correct this, although the canvas can be relaxed and re-stretched if required.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Executed in the artist’s mature period, Town Scraper pulsates with a sense of dynamic energy for which Arthur Dove is best known. As an early modernist experimenting with abstraction, Dove eschewed a strict reliance on the European models that had long dominated the American aesthetic. First owned by Alfred Stieglitz, an ardent supporter of the early modernists and Dove's longtime dealer, Town Scraper captures Dove's sensory experience of the world around him. Dominated by organic shapes and long, undulating lines, the work illustrates the artist's unique vision of the world, in which objects are not static or isolated entities but rather dynamic forces in constant interaction with their environments and one another.

Dove returned home to the United States in 1909 after a 15-month stay in Europe, and was soon introduced to Stieglitz. The two artists quickly forged an intimate personal and professional bond, through which Dove grew acquainted with the artists orbiting the photographer's circle including Marsden Hartley, John Marin, and Max Weber. This coterie of young painters shared a desire to establish new standards for a uniquely American aesthetic and to produce innovative pictures of a new and dynamic modern world. Dove’s work thus transformed remarkably soon after his return home, as he began to derive a personal style of abstraction that expressed the exuberance and admiration with which he viewed his surroundings.

In 1933, Dove relocated from a houseboat on the Harlem River to his family’s farm in Geneva, New York, where he most likely produced Town Scraper. The bucolic environment of his boyhood home provided ample opportunity for inspiration. Indeed it was in remote Geneva that Dove began to hone his budding aesthetic interests into the stylistic threads and themes that now characterize his oeuvre. By repeating and interlocking shapes, color, and texture throughout his compositions, Dove sought to record his personal interpretation of his environment by reducing its elements to their purest essence of line and color. Dove’s connection to the natural world transcended pure observation: “You get to a certain point,” he said of his process, “where you can feel a certain sensation of light—a certain yellow-green-red—they have nothing to do with tubes of paint” (quoted in Arthur Dove: A Retrospective, Andover, Massachusetts,1997, p. 106). Coming to view landscape as the source of life itself, Dove began to draw an analogy between the fecundity of the landscape and his own creative abilities, and he utilized them to explore the intersections between art and nature.

In Town Scraper, Dove transforms his subject—a piece of farm equipment—into an abstract biomorphic shape, presenting the scraper prominently in the foreground of the canvas. Rendered in a palette of cool blues and steely grays that indicate its manmade origins, the scraper is nonetheless composed entirely with long, undulating lines of paint that are mimicked in the rolling hills that rise behind it. Straight lines are entirely absent from the composition, allowing the steel scraper to find harmony with the earthy palette of greens, browns, and rusts. The presence of Dove’s characteristically expressive brushwork throughout evokes both the motion of the scraper and the interconnected dynamism and rhythms of the natural environment around it. The visual repetition of both texture and line instills the composition with a visual unity that alludes to both the unity with which Dove viewed the world as well as the intimacy the painter felt with his subject.

Dove would predominantly move away from recognizable representation to produce more purely abstract compositions after 1935. Town Scraper epitomizes a unique moment in Dove’s aesthetic evolution during which he explored the powerful relationship between natural imagery and abstract design. It is a striking example of the artist’s mastery of the oil medium, as well as of his unique ability to discovery poetry in nature’s most ordinary scenes.