Early Abstract and Modernist Painting

Arthur Dove (1880–1946)

Nature Symbolized #3: Steeple and Trees, 1911–12

Pastel on board mounted on wood panel, 18 x 21 1/2 in. (45.7 x 54.6 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection. Image courtesy: The Estate of Arthur G. Dove/Terry Dintenfass, Inc., 1992.33

One of the first American artists to abandon imitative representation, Arthur Dove created oil and pastel compositions in which dynamic shapes, lines, and colors evoke the essence—rather than the outward appearance—of natural forms. Nature Symbolized #3: Steeple and Trees and Sails belong to a series of ten pastels he made in 1911 and 1912 that were later dubbed the “Ten Commandments.” They were shown together in 1912 at 291, the pioneering New York gallery run by the photographer Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946). Among the first abstract artworks ever exhibited in the United States, Dove’s pastels caused a sensation among American viewers who, until the Armory Show in New York the following year, were largely unaware of the abstract art then gaining recognition in Europe. With their organic imagery borrowed from nature and their expressive dynamism, these pictures presaged the emerging American modernism of the early twentieth century.

Learn more about Sails and Nature Symbolized #3: Steeple and Trees on the Terra Foundation website.