Manierre Dawson

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Manierre Dawson (December 22, 1887, Chicago, Illinois – August 15, 1969, Sarasota, Florida) was an avant-garde painter and sculptor. He was born and raised in Chicago, but lived most of his life in Michigan.

The case of Manierre Dawson is interesting,[1] and his work been called "surprising and prophetic".[2] During a tour of Europe in 1910, he started painting true abstract works. Back in America, he became convinced that he could not earn a living at art, and became a farmer. He was forgotten until a rediscovery in 1963. He may have been the first person to paint a completely abstract work. He was probably the earliest American abstract artist,[3] slightly ahead of Arthur Dove.[4]

Xdx by Manierre Dawson from ca. 1910. Other Dawson works of similar date are alao abstract, though some show human figures in an abstract, cubist style. Before 1910 his work was modernist, but not so abstract.

Early career[change | change source]

After working for a year with a firm of architects, he was granted a six-month leave-of-absence for an educational tour of Europe. He departed in mid-June 1910 for his only trip abroad. He made his way across England to France, south through Germany, across Switzerland to Italy, back north for a second stay in Paris, and around northern Germany before embarking from Bremerhaven in late-November. In Sienna, he met and exchanged ideas on painting with John Singer Sargent. During his return visit to Paris he attended a Saturday evening soirée at the apartment of Gertrude Stein and he saw paintings by Paul Cézanne in the gallery of Ambroise Vollard.

1911 through 1914 were the most productive years of his career. In 1914, Dawson participated in two group exhibitions. Summers spent at the family’s retreat in Mason Country, Michigan were his most productive periods during his early career and provided rudimentary knowledge of growing and marketing fruit. He met Lilian Boucher, the daughter of a local farmer, and fell in love. They married in July 1915 and three children were born over the next five years.

Later career[change | change source]

Living in rural Michigan and struggling financially he made art from what was available (Portland cement, scraps of lumber, pieces of plywood). Sheets of composite wood (brand names Novoply and Timblend) were laminated together for thickness and carved into freestanding sculptures.

The first real recognition of his work began in 1966 with a retrospective exhibition mounted by the Grand Rapids Art Museum. An exhibition organized by the John and Mable Ringing Museum in Sarasota and shared with the Norton Gallery in West Palm Springs followed a year later. This exhibition brought Dawson to the attention of Robert Schoelkopf, who showed his work in New York in April 1969 and March 1981. When Dawson was diagnosed with cancer in 1968, he sold the Michigan farm and moved to Sarasota permanently. He died on August 15, 1969.

Major paintings[change | change source]

  • Prognostic, 1910, Milwaukee Museum of Art
  • Xdx, 1910, Brooklyn Museum of Art
  • Discal Procession, 1910, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC
  • Lucrece, 1911, The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota
  • Mrs. Darrow, 1911, Art Institute of Chicago
  • Meeting (The Three Graces), 1912, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
  • Retrospect, 1913, The Museum of Modern Art, New York
  • Letters and Numbers, 1914, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
  • Figure by Window, 1915, Illinois State Museum, Springfield

Bibliography[change | change source]

  • Gedo, Mary M. 1977. Manierre Dawson: the prophet in his own country. American Art Review 4, #3 (Dec. 1977), pp. 64-75, 121-125.
  • Gedo, Mary Mathews 1981. Modernizing the master: Manierre Dawson’s cubist transliterations. Art Magazine 55, #8 (April 1981), pp. 135-145.
  • Adams, Henry and Randy J. Ploog 1999. Manierre Dawson American pioneer of abstract art. New York: Hollis Taggart Galleries.
  • Ploog, Randy J. and Henry Adams 2003. Manierre Dawson: new revelations Chicago: Hollis Taggart Galleries.
  • Bates, Geoffrey 2006. Manierre Dawson: an artist out of bounds. The Living Museum, 68, #1 pp. 8-13.
  • Ploog, Randy J., Myra Bairstow, and Ani Boyajian 2011. Manierre Dawson (1887-1969): a catalogue raisonne. The Three Graces in association with Hollis Taggart Galleries, New York.

Further reading[change | change source]

  • Davidson, Abraham A. 1981. Early American modernist painting, 1910-1935. New York: Harper and Row, 1981.
  • Prince, Sue A. (ed) 1990. The old guard and the avant-garde: modernism in Chicago, 1910-1940. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Kennedy, Elizabeth (ed) 2004. Chicago modern, 1893-1945: pursuit of the new. Chicago: Terra Museum of American Art.

References[change | change source]

  1. Bates, Geoffrey, 2006. Manierre Dawson: an artist out of bounds. The Living Museum, 68(1): 8-13
  2. Manierre Dawson: a pioneer. Illinois State Museum. [1]
  3. But he was not the first American modernist painter: that honour belongs to Alfred Maurer.
  4. Ploog, Randy J; Myra Bairstow, and Ani Boyajian 2011. Manierre Dawson (1887-1969): a catalogue raisonne. The Three Graces in association with Hollis Taggart Galleries, New York. [2]

Other websites[change | change source]