Edwin Dickinson and Friends at Philadelphia Museum of Art


Edwin Dickinson, Interior, oil on beaverboard,
1916, Philadelphia Museum of Art


The tantalizing composition above challenges us to try to explain what's going on in this pile of figures. Exceptionally odd as it is it's so well painted it's compelling. It's one of the oils by Edwin Dickinson that has recently entered the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

This week we drove up from Baltimore to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. To mark the gift the museum recently received of six oils by the painter Edwin Dickinson (American 1891-1978) Kathleen Foster, the museum's Senior Curator of American Art, organized Between Nature and Abstraction: Edwin Dickinson and Friends. The show pairs Dickinson's work with that of artists whose work and time intersect Dickinson's. The exhibition concludes Feb. 10, 2019- if you hurry you can see it.

Edwin Dickinson, Self Portrait, oil on canvas, 1940
Philadelphia Museum of Art

The show's title phrase Between Nature and Abstraction shines a light on Dickinson's ability to invent patterns of flat shapes that have personalities of their own. To me the shirt collar in the self-portrait above seems almost able to breath and move. So too in the purposefully unfinished background in the still life below.

Edwin Dickinson, Still Life, oil on canvas,  1953
Philadelphia Museum of Art

The show is augmented by works from other prominent artists that he knew. Hanging side by side in the galleries you get a sense of what was in the air in the days Dickinson was painting.  The galleries hummed with interactions between the different artists.

Painting portraits from direct observation was still very much alive for serious oil painters in Dickinson's time. Here's a portrait by the Ashcan School painter John Sloan not unlike the Dickinson self-portrait above.




John Sloan,  Mrs. Henry Reuterdahl, oil on canvas,
1907, Philadelphia Museum of Art

These three pieces in the show are nearly monochrome but deeply expressive. 



Andrew Wyeth, Study for "The Mill"
watercolor, 1962, Philadelphia Museum of Art





Rockwell Kent, Interior of a Cottage, Monhegan Island,
watercolor and graphite, 1907, Philadelphia Museum of Art


I was especially happy to see the gusting winds in the drawing in this lithograph by Charles Burchfield. One of the great discoveries I came away with after my three years as the Artist in Residence at the Burchfield Penney Art Center was the incredible focus Burchfield placed on gesturally drawing forms in monochrome.


Charles Burchfield, Autumn Wind, lithograph, 1951
Philadelphia Museum of Art

In my own history as an artist Edwin Dickinson's drawings played  a huge role in teaching me to see with extreme selectivity. It was from him that I learned drawing and painting are as much about what you leave out as what you leave in. Thought there are none
of Dickinson's drawings in this show, I wanted to include one just for comparison (it's from the Art Museum in Provincetown). His process was to rub smooth large areas of a middle toned grey over the drawing paper with easy to smear vine charcoal. Then he would carve out forms with an eraser by pulling out clear white areas and reinforcing areas he needed to go darker. This way of working has a minimum of small details. It pushes the artist to see with a maximum selectivity and economy. It's a way of working that has profoundly impacted my own painting in oils.


Edwin Dickinson, View from Dos' Window, vine charcoal, 


Dickinson and Edward Hopper were longterm residents of Cape Cod. Here below is my wife Alice inspecting Hopper's painting Corn Hill, an historic site in the town of Truro, MA.








Edward Hopper, Corn Hill, watercolor, around 1930
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Hopper's watercolor Corn Hill particularly resonates with me as I've spent much time on and around this Truro, MA landmark. As I said before the way I draw owes much to Dickinson's example. 

Here is a drawing I made on location from the top of Corn Hill looking back towards the beach where Hopper positioned himself when he painted his watercolor. I am using the same soft charcoal medium favored by Dickinson



Philip Koch, Truro: Looking South Towards the Pamet River
vine charcoal, 8 x 12 inches, 1997

My favorites of the drawings I make usually end up sparking my interest in exploring their ideas in color. Here's a pastel drawing I made based in part on the charcoal above.

Philip Koch, The Return, pastel, 9 x12 inches, 1997
















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