The painting Elaine de Kooning wrote about for ARTnews was Ruin at Daphne which Dickinson had worked on for a decade, from 1943 until 1953, when it was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Whitney Museum of American Art then acquired The Fossil Hunters and the January 1959 issue of ARTNews proclaimed it “the best modern painting to enter an American public collection in 1958.” This was followed by a major retrospective at the Whitney in 1965 and in 1968 Dickinson was the principal American artist featured at the 34th Venice Biennial.
Dickinson became known as “an artist’s artist” perhaps because so many artists, including Stuart Davis and Fairfield Porter wrote about his work. But so did every major critic and historian of the period: Thomas B. Hess, Dore Ashton, Katharine Kuh, Barbara Rose, John Ashbery, Hilton Kramer and more recently, the great Jackson Pollock scholar, Francis V. O’Connor, to name just a few.
Self-Portrait in Uniform, 1942, is among Dickinson’s principal works–one of his finest masterworks. It is one of a triad of pictures, the other two being figure pieces of his daughter Helen and his son Constant. In a way, it reflects a tradition of American Flag paintings from John Trumbull to Emanuel Leutze (Fig. 1) to Jasper Johns (Fig. 2) and Faith Ringgold. The uniform, which Dickinson actually owned, is, in spite of its physical reality, an invented conceit. It illuminates and then casts into shadow the heart of Dickinson’s experiential art and his imagery of ambiguity, leaving himself and his viewer open to the prospects of imagination and psychological tensions within which all of his art is contextualized. He once wrote to his friend and patron Ansley Sawyer that it is not possible to “be privy wholly to what the piece may mean to me” and here, as in all the best expressionist art, Dickinson explores the duality and dichotomies inherent in the portrayal of representational imagery and abstract expressive painting. The “meaning” is much richer than the overt simplicity of the immediately apparent imagery, and yet the meaning might forever remain within the private dialogue of the artist and his art. One must engage the image or not see the raptor emerging from the nebulous brushstrokes and color tones, or the very realistically articulated but ambiguous shape at lower right. Even the Stars and Stripes seem to be emerging from the vagaries of peripheral vision. Yet seeing all of this through the structure of abstraction and ambiguity, it remains a painting done in time of war. But the conflict referred to is that within the artist – and the pathos of his own memories and experiences. Presenting himself as a soldier when he was a civilian is a metaphor for the artist painting not “from” nature, but “of” nature. It is here, in the arena of conceptual abstraction that Dickinson is at his best, where rather than painting what is seen, he paints his thoughts “of” what is seen.
 Elaine de Kooning. “Edwin Dickinson Paints a Picture,” Artnews, 48, (September 1949) 50
 de Kooning 1949, 28 and 51
 Jack Tworkov to the author, September 8, 1979
 Artnews, January, 1959, Volume 57, Number 9, 5.
5. Edwin Dickinson to Ansley Sawyer, January 8, 1952, Sawyer Letters, Archives of American Art.
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