United States 1887-1969
Oil on panel, 1913
Museum purchase with
funds provided by the
Leona G. Landberge Bequest
© San Diego Museum of Art
By producing his first abstract paintings as early as 1910,
Dawson joins Arthur Dove, Abraham Walkowitz, Morgan Russell, and Konrad Cramer,
as one of the most avant-garde painters in the
United States at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Born and raised in Chicago to a family who had been part of the city’s cultural life for generations, Dawson trained as a civil engineer before joining the design department of the distinguished Chicago architectural firm of Holabird and Roche. The fact that painting was his avocation makes Dawson’s pioneering efforts in modern art all the more remarkable.
Dawson was well acquainted with avant-garde trends in painting. For example, during his visit to Europe in 1910 he dined in Siena with John Singer Sargent and spent a Saturday evening at the Paris salon of Gertrude Stein. In December 1912 he was asked to submit works to the Armory Show, the exhibition that would introduce modern art to the United States during the winter of 1913. To the disappointment of Arthur B. Davies, the exhibition’s principal organizer, Dawson lacked confidence in his art and decided not to contribute.
By 1914 Dawson was finding his work for Holabird and Roche increasingly unrewarding. That year he decided to buy a fruit orchard in Ludington, Michigan; he believed the long winter months would leave him ample time to paint. Unfortunately, the demands of the farm were year-round, and Dawson’s production as an artist only diminished. Although he continued to paint throughout his life, Dawson and his work were largely forgotten until the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida, organized a retrospective exhibition in 1967.
Observation was produced when Dawson was at the height of his powers as an abstract painter. The work is composed of cubistic facets of burnt orange, alternating with muted green and tan, each outlined with black. This is a compositional structure informed by the paintings of Cézanne, Picasso, and Kandinsky, which Dawson had seen in Europe and, most likely, at the Armory Show.
(For Grades K-2)
What sort of mood do these colors give you? Why?
What primary colors do you see? Secondary?
Did the artist use mostly warm colors or cool colors?
What sort of shapes do you see?
Are these shapes geometric or organic?