- United States
Andrew Dasburg, United States 1931
39.25 in. X 25.5 in.
Denver Art Museum Collection, 1989.149
Photograph © Denver Art Museum 2009. All Rights Reserved.
About the Artist
At age five, Andrew Dasburg traveled with his widowed mother from his birthplace of Paris to New York. A fall into an excavation site at age seven sent Dasburg to a home for children with disabilities, where his artistic talent was first encouraged. He enrolled in art school at the Art Students League at age 16, and at 19 he was awarded a scholarship to the League’s summer program in Woodstock, New York. In 1909 Dasburg traveled to Paris, where he was profoundly moved by seeing Paul Cézanne’s paintings for the first time. (Cézanne is a renowned French painter who has been called a forerunner of modern painting.) An art collector loaned Dasburg a small Cezanne still-life of apples so he could copy the painting over and over again to better understand and emulate Cézanne’s style. Back in New York, Dasburg continued to immerse himself in the art world, experimenting with color theory and abstraction (not depicting an object exactly how it looks but simplifying, distorting, or rearranging it to reflect an emotion or sensation).
Dasburg moved to Taos, New Mexico, around 1930, where he lived for the remainder of his life. Addison’s disease—and the fatigue and depression that came with it—kept him from working for nearly a decade, but he started painting again at age 60. After his diagnosis, Dasburg moved away from oil paint and watercolors and began using ink, pencil, and pastels. He also made lithographs, or stone prints. He died at age 93, with the distinction of being the oldest surviving participant from the 1913 Armory Show, the first International Exhibition of Modern Art in America.
What Inspired It
Increasingly influenced by the landscape of New Mexico, Dasburg resolved to give up pure abstraction, realizing he gained more satisfaction in reacting to shapes and forms he observed in nature rather than working from pure invention. He simplified and transformed the objects he observed, using angular lines and geometric shapes to represent them without destroying their identity as objects.
Dasburg’s real interest was not in studying flowers or their symbolism, but in simply creating a good picture. The poppies were only a starting point for a study in color, shape, balance, and rhythm. Dasburg made sure each individual shape that he used contributed to the picture as a whole. Rhythm was particularly important to him; he said that “the force of gravity” and the “upward impulse in living things” were fundamental factors in considering rhythm. Looking at the poppies, it’s easy to see both the force of gravity as the blossoms droop and petals fall, and the “impulse in living things” in their natural upward growth.
Dasburg was interested in color theory and made use of the principle that warm colors seem to come forward in space and cool colors recede. The bright, warm color of the poppies forces the flowers to the front of the picture. In contrast, the walls, which are made up of purples and blues, seem to move back into space.
The square shape of the doorframe and table and the short, straight brushstrokes create a sense of angularity that contrasts with the arcs of the vase, the rounded poppy petals, and the curved stems.
In most of the painting, Dasburg applied color in patches and separate brushstrokes, interspersing warm and cool colors for a lively, almost vibrating effect. The bold red and green colors in the center intensify each other. The bright background creates a halo around the vase and flowers, emphasizing the vibrancy of the vase and poppies.
Dasburg placed the flowers along a diagonal line, beginning at the upper left and cascading down to the lower right. Follow the arc from the longstemmed flower that curves upward, to one that sits lower in the vase but still faces upward, to its neighbor that faces downward, and finally to the poppy whose stem curves completely down toward the table.
Quick Classroom Ideas
- The artist used both straight and curved lines purposefully in his paintings. Challenge the students to draw one picture using only straight lines, and then one using only curved lines. Once they have finished, have them explain what they liked about the task and what was difficult.
- This is a great painting to explain color theory and warm and cool colors. Challenge students to use terms from color theory to talk about this piece.