Manierre Dawson (1887-1969)
Manierre Dawson by Dr. Randy Ploog © Illinois Historical Art Project
Manierre Dawson, one of the most progressive American artists throughout the second decade of this century, was born in Chicago on December 22, 1887, to George E. Dawson and Eva (Manierre) Dawson. His mother was the daughter of Edward Manierre, an early settler in Chicago who was a successful merchant and a civic leader, having served as Alderman of the First Ward and as City Treasurer for three consecutive terms.1 His father was the descendant of farmers and blacksmiths from Laomi, Illinois. From these humble origins, George E. Dawson became a well-educated, widely traveled and cultured gentleman who spoke and read six languages. He was a teacher of the classics before educating himself in the law and becoming an attorney in Chicago. Through his participation in a mixed chorus called the Beethoven Society, he met Eva Manierre who had studied piano for two years in Vienna. They married in September 1885 and built a house on the corner of Twenty-fourth Street and Prairie Avenue, the most fashionable neighborhood in Chicago. Manierre was the second of their four sons.2
As their two oldest sons reached adolescence, George and Eva sought a permanent summer retreat for recreation and a change of environment. They purchased a small acreage with a farmhouse, outbuildings and a productive peach orchard near Ludington, Michigan. Beginning in 1903, Evaand her sons spent most of the summer months on the hilly farm which they nicknamed “The Humps.” The Michigan farm came to be associated with the Dawsons’ most pleasant family memories except for one tragic event, the drowning death of their eldest son, George Jr. in the summer of 1904.3
Suddenly all of his father’s parental aspirations were focused on Manierre, who was already devoting considerable time and effort to painting. The paintings he produced during his senior year at South Division High School,4 demonstrate a marked development in sophistication. Under the guidance of his art teacher, Miss Katherine G. Dimock,5 he abandoned the detailed depiction of romantic subjects to concentrate on the compositional arrangement of forms at the expense of subject-matter. Dawson’s high school art instruction probably followed the teaching methods of Arthur Wesley Dow. Many of his paintings from 1905, the year of his graduation from high school, reveal knowledge of the design principles and specific illustrations in Dow’s manual for art teachers, Composition, published in 1899.6
Weighing his father’s wishes that he pursue a professional career against his own creative desires, Dawson enrolled at the Armour Institute of Technology after high school. He persisted through the four-year program to receive a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering, but was never truly committed to his studies. He spent his free time painting on weekends in a small spare room in his parents’ house and during summers at the family’s Michigan farm.7 The paintings from his college years consisted of invented scenes of elongated figures in fantastic landscapes. These pictures bear some resemblance to those of Arthur B. Davies (1862-1928)
whose work he had been shown by a mutual friend, Kate Kellogg,8 but they also have some similarities to Japanese prints which he could have seen in exhibitions at the Art Institute.9
During his senior year at Armour Tech and his first year as a draftsman with the architectural firm of Holabird and Roche, where he was employed upon graduation in May 1909, Dawson’s style of painting progressed from the geometric rendering of buildings and human figures to the complete elimination of physical subject-matter, resulting in purely non-objective compositions. His non-objective paintings of the spring of 1910 are very likely some of the first produced by an American artist, predating Arthur Dove’s (1880-1946) first abstractions by at least a few months. Dawson later wrote that his first non-objective paintings were inspired by the mathematics he was required to study at Armour Tech.10 His use of mathematical terms, such as “Equation,” “Coordinates,” “Differentials,” as titles for many of his paintings reflects this influence. He was probably influenced by the discussion of “pure design” in architectural circles at the time.11 His first non-objective paintings exhibit similarities to illustrations in Denman Waldo Ross’s book A Theory of Pure Design published in 1907.12 Concurrently, Dawson developed a rationale for his departure from representation in favor of a non-objective approach to painting. He recorded fragments of his aesthetic philosophy in his personal journal. For example, in December 1908, while still a student at Armour Tech, he wrote:
“The boys in the civil engineering department were asking me ‘What do you think art is?’ I could say that it is an attempt to fix forms by painting or sculpture that have given me an emotion, hoping to find some who reacted as I did to these shapes and colors presented on a canvas or in some plastic material. Music is an art which to many is easier to appreciate with some emotion. It has many means - comparative pitch, time, combination and sequence. It can produce in most people some feeling that could be called an appreciation of art.”13
A year later, in January 1910, just as he was beginning his first non-objective experiments, he wrote:
“Many times in the D-room [the drafting room at Holabird and Roche] we discuss what is good or bad in architecture. Sometimes I have mentioned my paintings and what I am trying to do. All the boys agree that architecture is a human invention and is artificial. They can all understand how inventive music is. But when I say that great art in painting does not represent or copy nature, some say that the closer to nature the greater the art. That is not my understanding. We are influenced by nature because we are born into it, but great art must come from within oneself and is thus from nature only in that one is part of nature.”14
Consistent with the progressive nature of Dawson’s paintings, these statements represent some of the most advanced ideas expressed by an American artist at that time. Having been employed by Holabird and Roche almost immediately after graduation Dawson was accidentally assigned to the design department where he became acquainted with the firm’s designers, many of whom had studied architecture in Paris. Before long, his colleagues convinced Dawson of the importance of a European tour.15 After one year with the firm, Dawson was granted a leave of absence by his employers with the understanding that the purpose of his trip was to study architecture. His father supported the trip abroad with a gift of one hundred dollars based on the same belief. However, Dawson secretly gathered painting materials suitable for travel. He bought a block of watercolor paper which fit into his coat pocket and even cut thin wooden panels for oil paintings to fit precisely into the lid of his suitcase.16
In mid-June 1910, Dawson traveled by train to Montreal and from there by ship to Liverpool. Winding his way across England he visited every cathedral within his reach, but beginning in London, public collections of old master paintings received most of his attention. In Paris he spent much of his time in the Louvre, and in Switzerland he made watercolor sketches of the Alps. After a brief stay in Milan he arrived in Siena and encountered the expatriate American painter John Singer Sargent (1856-1925). Dawson described in is diary:
“The distinguished-looking man sitting across from me at the dinner table is John S. Sargent. Sitting next to him is his sister. They are formal and very polite and seem interested in my tales of wild-west Chicago. Sargent has more than once asked if he could see what I was doing. It pleased me that he should take any notice at all. Casual meetings have led to discussions. He is in favor of portrayals of sunlight. He says ‘like Sorolla’ (whoever that is) [Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida] and I try to point out the value of invention, novelty, originality, the intensive effort to compose… Of the masters of painting, Sargent brings up Hals and Titian. I suggested to him VerMeer [sic] as the most conscious as well as the most intuitive painter. I wish that in my paintings, I could place everything in the right spot and position and attitude and relation to every other thing in the picture. Sargent today looked long at my small panel. ‘What is it?’ he asked. ‘It is from a theme suggested by the corner of the fountain, and the jar below it, but is not an attempt to make a copy of either,’ I said. When I was about to take back the little panel of wood, he said, ‘No, let me look at it.’ This pleased me beyond any praise I had received at any other time from anyone. He never said at any of these meetings that I was on the wrong track.”17
After eleven days in Siena, Dawson visited Rome, Naples, Pompeii, Orvieto, Perugia, Florence and Venice all within the month of October. With his money dwindling, he had to push himself to see all of the monuments and pictures galleries on his itinerary. While in the presence of the finest paintings by Raphael, Michelangelo and Titian, his primary concern was their compositional arrangements which he would later imitate in his own works. The many and varied paintings in Rome caused Dawson to later comment the city had raised his “appreciation” of the great artists to a “higher level.”18 As a contrast, in Venice he visited the International Art Exhibition, commenting that the painters were more interested in quantity than quality.19
By the first of November he was in Paris for a second brief visit. Encouraged by an English acquaintance named Whitley, Dawson took advantage of a letter of introduction from a colleague at Holabird and Roche, Frederick C. Lebenbaum, and called upon Gertrude Stein. He wrote in his journal:
“I have called at Miss Stein’s in Rue de Fleurus, showed my letter to the long skirted woman who answered the bell. She spoke English like an American, didn’t bother to read the letter and informed me that Miss Gertrude was busy that afternoon, but would be at home Saturday evening. Telling Whitley about it, he suggested we call together and also suggested I take along a wood panel to show. He said Saturdays brought a mixture of nationalities to Miss Stein’s, but while there was much confusion and the light was not good, one could see an extraordinary jumble of paintings, a few of them remarkable and well worth examining. Whitley introduced me to the hostess, a fat woman in a very large chair. A brief conversation with Miss Stein let her know that I was a fellow architecture of Lebenbaum’s, but that I was more interested in painting than architecture. I told her that…I could not stay long in Paris because money was running out... After some time she beckoned me to her chair. With some diffidence I showed her my little painting which I had carried under my arm. Looking at it for awhile steadily, she passed it to a bearded Frenchman who said a few words in comment, raised his eyebrows and with just a suggestion of a bow, returned it to me. Then came the surprise. ‘Can I have this?’ said Miss S. ‘Do you mean buy it?’ I asked smiling and thinking I would gladly give it to her. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Would 200 francs be right?’ ‘Yes.’ This is the first painting I ever sold.”20
Because of Dawson’s fascination with the Cézanne paintings he saw in Stein’s apartment, Whitley led him to a dealer’s gallery, probably Ambroise Vollard’s, where he saw more the following Monday. He later wrote that of all the things he had seen, including the old masters, he was most affected by Cézanne:
“I think I have been most affected by Cézanne who, in the few works of his I have seen, doesn’t take the scene at face value but digs into the bones and shows them. He isn’t afraid of bold lines in landscape or figure and he makes the color what it should be.”21
The modest windfall from his sale to Stein allowed him to extend his stay in Europe for a few more weeks. From Paris he made a quick tour of Germany, visiting Munich, Dresden and Berlin. After visiting the Alte Pinakothek in Munich he called Peter Paul Rubens “a master of arrangement.” Adding, “He has an almost unlimited compositional power.”22 He embarked for New York from Bremen on the nineteenth of November.23
Well rested after his Atlantic crossing, Dawson called upon Arthur B. Davies on his first day in New York. Davies had been told to expect his visit by their mutual friends, the Kelloggs.24 After brief introductions, Davies took his guest to see Albert Pinkham Ryder (1847-1917) in his studio. The aged painter’s health had begun to decline but Dawson was exhilarated by just meeting the reclusive master.25 With Dawson in tow, Davies also visited other artists and friends. The Chicagoan was humbled by the “clever craftsmanship” demonstrated by some of the painters, but conceptually his work was more progressive than that of his New York hosts. Davies complimented Dawson on his European paintings and his earlier work seen in snapshots, but ultimately advised him to return to the human figure.26
Arriving back in Chicago in mid-December, Dawson immediately set to assimilating the best of what he had seen during his travels, the old as well as the new. Following Davies’s advice to return to the human figure, he reinterpreted in a style akin to Cubism figurative compositions appropriated from old master paintings he had seen in European museums. In addition to the paintings by Cézanne in Stein’s apartment and Vollard’s gallery, he apparently also saw examples of fully developed Cubism by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) or Georges Braque (1882-1963). Through 1911 and 1912, Dawson completed paintings based on compositions borrowed from works by Titian, Rubens, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Correggio, Corot and Leonardo da Vinci.27 He justified his merging of the old with the new when he wrote in his journal, “Time and again I have had the thought that all artists in all times past and present are trying to do the same thing, to make a picture and make it right.”28 In 1912 or 1913, he also painted an abstracted variation of Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein which may have been in her apartment.29 While a few other American painters adopted Cubism as much as two years earlier, Dawson’s adaptation of the avant-garde style at the beginning of 1911 places him among the most progress artists in the United States.
After his tour of Europe, Dawson resumed employment with Holabird and Roche, but before long, his work there became dull and routine and it interfered with his first love, painting.30 In the summer 1912 he a vacation and moved all of his finished paintings which were cluttering his parents’ house to the Michigan farm for storage.31 That December, Davies invited him to participate in the International Exhibition of Modern Art (also known as the Armory Show). Dawson was faced with a dilemma. All of his best work was inaccessible on the other side of an icy Lake Michigan. He believed his finished paintings in Chicago were either too small or unimpressive to send to New York for a major exhibition where they would have been “lost in the assemblage Davies intends.”32 He was probably also suffering from a bit of self-doubt as he expressed, “With all the great quantity (of artists) the promoters would not want me from way out her in Chicago.”33 His efforts to produce something appropriate for submission were in vain and as the mid-February opening of the exhibition at the 69th Regiment Armory in New York approached, he conceded that he had nothing to send.34
Five weeks later, when the exhibition came to the Art Institute, Dawson visited it almost daily. “These are without question the most exciting days of my life,” he wrote in his journal, “I am feeling elated. I had thought of myself as an anomaly and had to defend myself, many times, as not crazy; and here at the Art Institute many artists are presented showing these very fanciful departures from the academies”35 He recognized the radical European artists as kindred spirits: “…Many are thinking and expressing the same ideas that I am growing into… The works of Matisse and Kandinsky are extremely important in breaking open the avenues of freedom of expression.”36
For the first time in his career, he did not feel alone in his creative efforts. During his initial visit to the exhibition he became engaged in conversation with one of its organizers, Walter Pach (1883-1958), a friend of Davies.37 At the Dawson home the following evening for dinner, Pach was so impressed with Dawson’s most recent efforts that he chose one painting to hang clandestinely in the exhibition. Since it was his first exhibited work he was thrilled to see his painting hanging in such distinguished company.38 No other Chicago artists were included in the exhibition.
Dawson was so impressed by the recent paintings from Europe that he wished to own one of them. Unfortunately, his first choice, Picasso’s Woman with Mustard Pot (Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Hague), was beyond his means and his father refused to lend him money for such a purpose. Forced to lower his sights, Dawson was able to purchase two paintings from the exhibition without his father’s assistance, Marcel Duchamp’s Nu, (now known as Sad Young Man on a Train) and Amadéo de Sousa-Cardozo’s Return from the Chase.39
While the Armory Show still hung in the Art Institute, Dawson left his position with Holabird and Roche and spent the next year bouncing through four design-related jobs.40 From mid-April through May, he made architectural plans and watercolor renderings for the W.K. Cowan furniture company which attempted to branch into office shop remodeling. The new venture lasted only five weeks before it was abandoned due to difficulties in meeting city building codes. Dawson’s next employment came from Albert Chase McArthur who left Frank Lloyd Wright’s employ to begin his own firm. Dawson worked for McArthur six weeks without ever receiving a penny for his efforts. He quit McArthur to join the Nachtegal Manufacturing Company of Grand Rapids, Michigan, but after only one week he left that company because of his employer’s insistence on using inferior construction materials to cut costs. Before returning to Chicago, he spent a very productive month at the family farm in Michigan. In the wake of the Armory Show he returned to painting non-objective compositions, now informed by his two-year exploration of Cubism. While unemployed, he could not justify buying canvas, so he experimented with painting on wooden scraps of lumber. These painted reliefs are unique in American art for their time, are a good example of Dawson’s artistic innovation. In late November, he joined a former colleague from Holabird and Roche, Clarence G. Smith, who had begun his own architectural firm.41
During this same period, Dawson began to interact with other artists and to pursue actively exhibition venues for his work. During or shortly after the Armory Show, he met Jerome Blum (1884-1956), with whom he developed a brief but nurturing friendship. In January 1914, he presented his work to the manager of the Thurber Gallery, but with no success.42 The same month he invited interested persons to his parents’ home to view his paintings. Among his visitors were Harriet Monroe, Dudley Crafts Watson (1885-1972) and Florence Bradley.43 Critic Lena M. McCauley noted in her weekly column:
“Manierre Dawson, a young painter in the impressionistic, or the so-called ‘futurist,’ art, has an exhibition of his canvases at his home, 216 East Twenty-fourth street, on view any hour of the daylight until April 10… Mr. Dawson’s friends regard his work with enthusiasm as an art having a fresh message. His paintings, however, have not been exhibited here until this time.”44
That spring, he made his first and only submission to the Art Institute’s Annual Exhibition of Works by Artists of Chicago and Vicinity, but his entry was rejected. The Armory Show which thrilled and encouraged Dawson was also the subject of overwhelming negative publicity, resulting in an anti-modern reaction in Chicago immediately after the exhibition.45 Dawson lamented that the Chicago art dealers “are dead set against anything resembling cubism.”46
Despite these disappointments, 1914 proved to be one of Dawson’s most success-filled years. Through Pach, he was invited to participate in an exhibition of fourteen American modernists organized by Davies. Dawson sent two paintings and a charcoal drawing to New York where the exhibition began its tour. From the Montross Gallery, it traveled to the Detroit Museum of Art, the Cincinnati Museum, and the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.47 Detroit was Dawson’s only chance to see the show. He caught an early morning train from Chicago on Sunday, March 1, for opening day, spent the entire day in the exhibition and caught an evening train back to Chicago. While in the gallery he positioned himself near his paintings to eavesdrop on other museum visitors. Flattered and amused by what he heard, he wrote in his journal, “never had more fun in my life.”48
Also that winter and spring, Dawson assisted his high school friend Watson, in organizing an exhibition of modern American and European art. Watson had just been named the director of the Milwaukee Art Society and wanted to bring some of the excitement of the Armory Show to Milwaukee. In addition to Dawson, the exhibition included work by Chicago artists Jerome Blum, and Lucille Swan Blum (1887-?), Charles Sheeler, E. Ambrose Webster (1869-1935), and Henry Fitch Taylor. Paintings by European artists were borrowed from Chicago attorney Arthur Jerome Eddy, the collection of Gimbel Brothers Department Store in Milwaukee and Dawson
loaned his Duchamp and Sousa-Cardozo paintings.49 Critic Lena McCauley announced this exhibit in her article announcing Dawson’s show at his home:
“After that time the collection of canvases will join the exhibition of post-impressionists, cubists and others held in the galleries of the Milwaukee Art Society April 16, in charge of Dudley Crafts Watson, the director of the art society… In Milwaukee they will unite with a group of ‘futurist Americans’ and the last expression of the futurist Portuguese and French painters. Part of the exhibit has been touring in eastern art galleries and includes the works of Arthur Davies, Maurice Prendergast, Walter Pach, Jerome Blum, Grackens [sic. Glackens], Buchamp [sic. Duchamp], Kuhn and Sourza-Cardoza.”50
As Watson had hoped, the exhibition attracted considerable coverage in the Milwaukee newspapers. The European artists received most of the attention but the Milwaukee Free Press illustrated Dawson’s largest abstract painting of 1910 sarcastically identifying it as a portrait of the museum director, Dudley Crafts Watson.51 In addition to being the first large scale exhibition of Dawson’s work (it included forty of his paintings and watercolors), the Milwaukee exhibition also may have resulted in the sale of two paintings to Eddy.52
In March 1914, having just seen his paintings hanging in the Detroit Museum of Art, and with his involvement in the Milwaukee exhibition deepening, Dawson became increasingly frustrated with the “dull rut” of Smith’s drafting room.53 Upon giving two weeks notice and clearing his table of pending projects, he quit so he could devote more time to painting. After his works were returned from Milwaukee and as spring approached, he headed to Michigan for a “long long stay” at the family farm. He quickly planted a vegetable garden, tended to the fruit trees and performed a variety of spring maintenance chores around the property so he could have time free for painting.54
That summer, the twenty-six year old Dawson attended a Fourth of July ice cream social at the local schoolhouse. There he met Lilian Boucher, the seventeen year old daughter of an area farmer and promptly fell in love. For the first time, serious thoughts of marriage crossed his mind but Lili’s youth and his financial instability were obstacles. His creative interests were as strong as ever but he bore no illusions about making a living from his paintings. He wrote,
“…how many years would it take to arrive at a stage where I could sell enough paintings to bring in the bread and butter. I would hate to fall into a position of teaching for a living, and anyway I am not an expert in craftsmanship. I could teach engineering with my degrees of B.S. and C.E. but that would be going backwards. I am convinced that there is something great urging the necessity of producing paintings. So I keep doing. Satisfaction of accomplishment can be -- but no money. What to do?”55
He had always enjoyed his summers on the family farm and considered himself experienced at caring for its orchard. After meeting Lili, he began to view farming as a viable profession. He was well aware of the hard work in farming but he also believed it would allow some time for his creative pursuits. With the assistance of his father and the local bank, he purchased a fifty-acre farm which bordered the southern edge of his parents’ property in October 1914. He married Lili on July 28, 1915, and their first child was born one year later. Two more children were born in the next five years.56
The purchase of the farm had an immediate impact on his creative production. Both time and money were at a premium. As a result of the initial investment of capital to start the farm and household, paint and canvas were beyond his means during the first year in Michigan. Since carving could be performed on material found around the farm, sculpture became an affordable alternative. But carving was a time consuming process and he soon realized that all of the three dimensional compositions in his imagination could be more quickly recorded in paintings than in sculpture. Once his financial situation stabilized, he began making paintings of imaginary abstract sculptures.57 However, as his responsibilities for the farm and family grew, Dawson’s painting productivity steadily declined. According to his inventory, production decreased from fifty-four paintings in 1913 and twenty-eight in 1914, to five in 1920. Through the 1920s and 1930s, he typically completed only one or two paintings per year. As anticipated, winter provided some free time, but the farm and his family required nearly constant attention.58
Other leisure activities, such as corresponding with friends, writing in his journal and visiting Chicago, were also limited. In 1921, after years of being out of touch, Dawson reestablished contact with his two most ardent supporters, Walter Pach and Dudley Crafts Watson. Pach had always taken a special interest in Dawson’s ownership of Duchamp’s painting and had at least twice offered to buy it from him.59 In January 1922, during an especially difficult winter, Dawson surrendered to the financial pressures of his growing family and accepted Pach’s offer. When he sent Pach the Duchamp, he also sent two of his own paintings for inclusion in the annual exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists, of which Pach was the secretary.60 A year later, he sent two paintings to their 1923 exhibition.61 Dawson’s renewed association with Watson in 1921, resulted in a second Milwaukee exhibition two years later. The exhibition of twenty-seven modest sized paintings at the Milwaukee Art Institute was his first and only one person show until 1966. The size and number of the paintings in the exhibition were limited by the artist’s financial ability to crate and ship them to Milwaukee. He made no effort to see the exhibition.62
During a rare visit to Chicago for Christmas 1921, Dawson made unsuccessful presentations to the managers of the Thurber and Anderson galleries. With three paintings under his arm he stopped at his brother Mitchell’s law office where he encountered Carl Sandburg, a client and friend of his brother. Upon seeing one of a series of paintings which Dawson had titled Loft, Sandburg suggested that the title be expanded to Prayer Loft (private collection, Illinois). Dawson, who never placed much importance in titles, adopted Sandburg’s suggestion.63
In addition to being an attorney, Mitchell was a poet whose verses had been published in Poetry, The Little Review and other literary magazines. Along with Sandburg, other members of the Chicago literary circle, including Margaret Anderson, Jane Heap, Sherwood Anderson and Ben Hecht, were friends of Mitchell’s. After seeing his brother’s poems in print, Manierre expressed envy of writers because they had their “little magazines” as outlets for their work. He wrote in his journal, “Why can’t we painters and sculptors have a ‘Little Gallery.’ Where will we find an angel?”64
In 1923, Dawson was invited by Watson to show his works in Milwaukee at an exhibition of Modernism. Dawson declined thinking the venture would only fail, representing a decided change in Dawson’s attitude towards art.65 As so aptly put by scholar Kenneth Hey: “On this negative note his journal ended. Evidently pacified by the farmer’s life, out of touch with newer forms of innovation, and now uninterested in the fury of criticism that had at one time engrossed his attention, he simply ceased keeping written records of his thoughts.”66
While his children were growing, Dawson’s financial situation was frequently so dire that even magazine subscriptions were beyond his means. However, according to relatives, he refused to cancel his subscription to the Wall Street Journal. His financial fortune changed in the mid-1940s when he received a substantial inheritance from an aunt. After wisely investing the sum in the stock market, he began to contemplate retirement from the farm.67 In January 1948, accompanied by Lili, he returned to New York for the first time since 1910, for an extended stay. Any effort to interest dealers in his work, however, was apparently in vain. During the 1950s, the Dawsons began wintering in Sarasota, Florida, where they eventually relocated. Retirement allowed the artist the time and the means to be more productive than he had been in decades. Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, he averaged approximately six works per year. Most of these late works were sculptures carved from sheets of particle board laminated together. A few of these pieces faithfully recreate sculptures he had conceived and recorded in paintings forty-five years earlier.68
It was not until 1966, only three years before his death, Dawson’s paintings and sculptures began to receive the recognition they deserved. Exhibitions at the Grand Rapids Art Museum in that year and at the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota the following year, paved the way for Dawson’s rediscovery. Through the efforts of Karl Nichel, assistant curator at the Ringling Museum, Dawson was brought to the attention of art dealer, Robert Schoelkopf. In April 1969, Schoelkopf gave Dawson’s paintings the first of three exhibitions in his New York gallery. Later that summer, Nichel was asked by the Smithsonian Institution to record an interview with the artist for its Archives of American Art.69 Unfortunately, before a meeting could be arranged Dawson was hospitalized with an illness from which he never recovered. He died August 15, 1969.
Since his death, Dawson’s paintings have been acquired by some of the most prestigious museums in the country, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the National Museum of American Art, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. His paintings were the subject of a retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chciago, in 1976. In 1988, the Whitney Museum of American Art mounted an exhibition which concentrated on his early non-objective paintings. A large exhibition of Dawson’s paintings and sculptures was organized by the Hollis Taggart Galleries in New York in 1999.
ENDNOTES: In 1995, the Illinois Historical Art Project interviewed one of two partners in a psychiatry practice at his home in Winnetka, IL. His home was filled with paintings by Manierre Dawson, which is what had attracted the project principals to meet him. In these discussions he relayed that both he and his doctor partner owned a number of works by Dawson, and that they had come to know him quite well through friendship and a shared interest in golf. In 2010 the Project interviewed the other doctor partner at his home in Glenview, IL where more of Dawson’s works were viewed, including hand-colored wood bas-reliefs. The first doctor stated emphatically that most of Dawson’s comments in his diary pertaining to his trip to Europe were fabricated, especially so when concerning American expatriate artist John Singer Sargent and modernist collector Gertrude Stein. He relayed that Dawson’s stories of meetings with famous people of the arts never added up, and the stories changed frequently. The second doctor agreed there was some fabrication, but perhaps not to the same extent. On the surface it begs reason that Dawson would just happen to bump into Sargent sitting at a café and strike up a conversation with the famous artist. The same can be said for his supposed invitation to Stein’s home and the repartee that resulted. There is no documented record Dawon’s works appeared in the International Exhibition of Modern Art (the “Armory Show”). Readers should therefore take information from Dawon's diary entries with some degree of caution. There exists no corroborating facts.
1 “Old Days in Chicago; Stories from Edward Manierre,” (non-published typed manuscript, Chicago Historical Society, Chicago, Illinois).
2 George E. Dawson, “Autobiography of George E. Dawson,” Peter Lockwood, Arlington, Texas.
3 George E. Dawson, “Autobiography,” p.202-215. Of George and Eva’s four sons, George Jr. (1886-1904), Manierre (1887-1969), Mitchell (1890-1955), and Lovell (1897-1919) only Manierre and Mitchell lived to adulthood. George Jr. drowned in Bass Lake, near Ludington, Michigan only days after he graduated from high school and Lovell died of spinal meningitis after a brief stint in the army during World War I.
4 The South Division High School was organized in September 1875, in the Mosely School building at Michigan Avenue and 24th Street and was later transferred to 26th and Wabash. While Dawson was in high school a new building to house South Division was under construction. The students and teachers of South Division moved into the new building named for Wendell Philips in August 1904, just before Dawson’s senior year.
5 Manierre Dawson, “Journal,” 5/1/1910, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. Dawson’s original journal is owned by Peter Lockwood, Arlington, Texas. Dawson began keeping a personal journal on 12/26/1910 and continued to record entries in it until 11/27/1922, with a few additional comments added in 1939 and 1940. Where multiple facts have been taken from the journal within a paragraph, the range of dates of the journal entries will be cited. In his journal Dawson referred to his high school art teacher only as Miss Dimock. However, his mother identified her as Katherine G. Dimock in a letter to her son Mitchell. Letter to Mitchell Dawson from Eva Dawson, 6/15/1928, Mitchell Dawson Papers, Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois. Little more is known about Dimock.
6 Arthur Wesley Dow, Composition: A Series of Exercises Selected from a New System of Art Education, (Boston: J. M. Bowles, 1899).
7 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 12/26/1908.
8 Kate and Mary Kellogg, high school friends of Eva Manierre, were sisters to Alice DeWolf Kellogg Tyler (1866-1900) who was a classmate and close friend of Arthur B. Davies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Davies gave some examples of his work to the Kellogg family which Kate Kellogg showed to Dawson. Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 5/10/1910. For more information on Tyler and her work as an artist, see: Lorado Taft, Chicago Record, 2/14/1901 in Art Institute of Chicago Scrapbooks, vol. 13, pp.143-144.
9 Julia Meech and Gabriel P. Weisberg, Japonisme Comes to America: The Japanese Impact on the Graphic Arts, 1876-1925 (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1990) 190-191. In 1906, the Art Institute mounted an exhibition of Japanese woodcut prints from the collection of Frank Lloyd Wright. Two years later the collections of Wright, Frederick W. Gookin and Clarence Buckingham provided the Art Institute with a mammoth exhibition of six hundred-fifty-five Japanese prints in an installation designed by Wright.
10 Letter to Tracy Atkinson, Director, Milwaukee Art Center, from Manierre Dawson, 4/6/1969, Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
11 H. Allen Brooks, The Prairie School: Frank Lloyd Wright and his Midwest Contemporaries, (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1972), 39-40. The pros and cons of “pure design” in architectural educational and in practice were popular topics of discussion among architects beginning with the second annual meeting of the Architectural League of America in Chicago in 1900. “Pure design” would undoubtedly have been a topic of discussion in the classrooms of Armour Tech and in the drafting rooms at Holabird and Roche.
12 Denman W. Ross, A Theory of Pure Design: Harmony, Balance and Rhythm, (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1907). Ross’s book was immediately available in the library of the Art Institute and probably at Armour Tech.
13 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 12/26/1908.
14 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 1/2/1910.
15 Dawson wrote, “Smith, Lebenbaum and others (colleagues of his as Holabird and Roche) have told me I must go to Europe to get the most experience in art appreciation.” Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 9/5/1910.
16 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 6/3/1909 - 5/1/1910.
17 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 9/ 21/1910. British artist William Blake Richmond wrote in his journal in Florence on 9/11/1910 that Sargent had stopped in to see him before leaving for Siena. Simon Reynolds, William Blake Richmond: An Artist’s Life, 1842-1921, (London: Michael Russell, 1995), pp.306-307.
18 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 11/2/1913.
19 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 10/16/1910.
20 Op. cit., Dawson “Jounral,” 11/2/1910. The whereabouts of the work has never been known. Dawson recorded in his journal that Stein implied she was buying it as a gift for an unknown third party. In his journal he called the painting Statement, but he later listed it in his inventory of paintings as Night Dream. 21 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 11/2/1910 and op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 11/14/1910 as quoted in op. cit., Gedo, Manierre Dawson (1887-1969): A Retrospective Exhibition of Painting, 1976, p.12. Dawson did not record the name of the dealer but he identified the gallery’s location as Rue Laffitte. Ambroise Vollard’s gallery was at 6 Rue Laffitte and he had presented a exhibition of Cézanne’s paintings that summer.
22 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 11/14/1910.
23 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 11/14/1910 - 11/30/1910.
24 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 5/1/1910 and 10/16/1910. Dawson corresponded from Europe with Kate Kellogg in Chicago, apprising her of his itinerary. She communicated his schedule to Davies through her sister Hattie Foster in Troy, New York, who had kept in contact with Davies after the death of their sister Alice in 1900.
25 Dawson wrote, “we visited Albert Ryder – a very exhilarating time there. He is a great artist. I felt extremely elated when he looked lengthily at my paintings and photos.” Op .cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 12/1/1910.
26 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 11/30/1910 - 12/5/1910.
27 Mary Mathews Gedo, “Modernizing the Masters: Manierre Dawson’s Cubist Transliterations,” Arts Magazine, Vol. 55 April 1981; pp.135-45. In her article, Gedo identified compositions taken from all of the artists listed above except Leonardo which has been identified by the author with the help of Carolyn Smyth.
28 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 4/2/1911.
29 Earl A Powell III, “Manierre Dawson’s ‘Woman in Brown,” Arts Magazine, September 1976; pp.76-77. and Gedo, “The Secret Idol: Manierre Dawson and Pablo Picasso,” Arts Magazine, Vol. 56, December 1981; p.119. Dawson listed the undated painting under 1912 in his inventory of paintings, but Gedo argues that it was probably not painted until 1913 when the Picasso portrait was illustrated in Camera Work. Picasso’s Gertrude Stein now belongs to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
30 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 1/2/1911 – 4/2/1911. Given an assignment on the Monroe building in Chicago, he offered disdain by saying, “The ridiculous Monroe building, who wants a medieval Italian building on Michigan Avenue.” Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 9/2/1912.
31 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 6/2/1912.
32 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 12/12/1912.
33 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 12/16/1912, as quoted in op. cit., Gedo, Manierre Dawson (1887-1969): A Retrospective Exhibition of Painting, 1976, p.15.
34 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 12/16/1912 - 1/26/1913.
35 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 3/27/1913, as quoted in Mary Mathews Gedo, Manierre Dawson (1887-1969): A Retrospective Exhibition of Painting, (Chicago: Museum of Contemporary Art, 1976), p.15.
36 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 3/27/1913, as quoted in op. cit., Gedo, Manierre Dawson (1887-1969): A Retrospective Exhibition of Painting, 1976, p.12.
37 Walter Pach, Queer Thing, Painting, (New York and London: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1938), p.157. Pach confirms that he met Dawson in the galleries of the Armory Show and described him in terms consistent with the enlightened naive that he was.
38 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 3/27/1913 - 4/4/1913. Dawson’s inclusion in the Armory Show is not documented in any catalogues or photographs.
39 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 4/4/1913 and Milton W. Brown, The Story of the Armory Show (New York: Abbeville Press, 1988) 264, 318. Picasso’s Woman with Mustard Pot was priced at $675. Dawson paid $162 for the Duchamp and $54 for the Sousa-Cardozo. The Duchamp hangs in the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, Italy. Dawson apparently sold his Sousa-Cardozo to Robert Schoelkopf in 1968. Its current location is not known.
40 The circumstances surrounding Dawson’s departure from Holabird and Roche are unclear. He was obviously spending considerable time in the Art Institute. Perhaps he was so elated by the Armory Show that he quit his job or allowed himself to be fired. The Holabird and Roche employment records for that period do not survive.
41 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 4/4/1913 - 11/29/1913. This date range in the journal provides the detailed account of his various positions at the time.
42 W. Scott Thurber, the original proprietor of the Thurber Gallery and long a champion of progressive art died in September 1913. Chicago Evening Post, “Friend of Art and Artists Lost When Veteran Passes,” 9/26/1913, p.5. Thurber, one of the early supporters of Blum, had given he and Arthur Dove their first exhibitions in Chicago.
43 Harriet Monroe was the art critic for the Chicago Tribune. Dudley Crafts Watson was a high school friend of Dawson’s who had studied at the School of the Art Institute. Florence Bradley was seeking artists for exhibition in her father’s empty warehouse. According to Dawson, she had already shown paintings by Marsden Hartley (1877-1943) in the space.
44 Lena M. McCauley, “Art and Artists,” Chicago Evening Post, 4/4/1914, p.6.
45 For a more thorough discussion of the Armory Show and the Chicago press see Randy J. Ploog, “Critiquing Cubism,” Chicago History, Vol. 23, Fall 1994; pp.58-72.
46 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 10/5/1913.
47 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 12/6/1913 - 12/12/1913; Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings (New York: Montross Gallery, 1914); Letters to Dawson from Watson 2/14/1914 and 3/23/1914, all in Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. The other thirteen artists represented in the exhibition were Arthur B. Davies, Walter Pach, Joseph Stella (1877-1946), William Glackens (1870-1938), Maurice Prendergast (1859-1924), Charles Sheeler (1883-1965), Walt Kuhn (1877-1949), Morton L. Schamberg (1881-1918), E.L. MacRae (1875-1953), George F. Of (1876-1954), Henry Fitch Taylor (1853-1925), Allen Tucker (1866-1939), and Howard Coluzzi ( ).
48 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 3/1/1914.
49 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 2/8/1914 - 4/26/1914 and, Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture in the Modern Spirit, (Milwaukee Art Society, 1914), Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.
50 Op. cit., McCauley, Chicago Evening Post, 4/4/1914, p.6.
51 “Manierre Dawson’s Cubist Portrait of Director Dudley Crafts Watson,” Milwaukee Free Press, 4/19/1914, clipping archives, Milwaukee Art Museum.
52 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 5/25/1914. According to Dawson, Eddy hinted that he might give the two paintings to friends as Christmas presents. Their current location is not known. Eddy paid for the paintings five months later. Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 10/15/1914. It is somewhat problematical that no account of the paintings has ever been found. In 1931, former Chicago Mayor and art collector and syndicator Carter H. Harrison, a close friend of Eddy’s, wrote a retrospective of Eddy’s collecting career which included mentions of several Americans who benefited from his patronage. Nowhere in this lengthy report was there mention of Dawson. See: Carter H. Harrison, “Arthur Jerome Eddy, Art Lover-An Intimate Picture by an Old Friend,” Chicago Evening Post, 12/29/1931, Art Section, pp.7, 10. A year later Eddy gave nine American canvases to the Flint Institute of Art, none of which were by Dawson. “Nine Canvases of Eddy Collection Given Flint, Mich., Institute,” Chicago Evening Post, 3/29/1932, Art Section, p.6.
53 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 3/1/1914.
54 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 5/31/1914.
55 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 7/4/1914.
56 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 7/4/1914 - 1/31/1921. Gerard was born 7/11/1916, Hope was born 11/31/1917 and Carolyn was born 1/30/1921.
57 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 1/30/1916 - 11/30/1916.
58 Dawson, “Inventory of Paintings and Sculptures,” Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.
59 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 1/12/1922, and letters to Dawson from Pach, 6/13/1913, 2/4/1919, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.
60 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 3/10/1922 and Clark S. Marlor, The Society of Independent Artists: The Exhibition Record, 1917-1944, (Park Ridge, N.J.: Noyes Press, 1984), pp. 3, 200.
61 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 1/21/1922 and op. cit., Marlor, The Society of Independent Artists: The Exhibition Record, 1917-1944, p.200.
62 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 11/27/22 - 12/25/1922 and Dudley Crafts Watson, “Recent Notable Exhibitions,” The Art Bulletin, Milwaukee Art Institute, Vol. 24, February 1923, p.2.
63 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 1/21/1922 and letter to Mitchell Dawson from Carl Sandburg, 2/21/1922, Mitchell Dawson Papers, Newbury Library, Chicago. In his letter dated one month after their meeting, Sandburg wrote to Mitchell Dawson, “Those pictures chased business out of my head. Tell your reckless brother.”
64 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 10/22/1915.
65 Op. cit., Dawson, “Journal,” 11/27/1922.
66 Kenneth Hey, Five Artists and the Chicago Modernist Movement 1909-1928, Doctoral dissertation, Emory University, 1973, p.148.
67 Many details of Dawson’s life after 1922, when he stopped keeping a personal, journal are not known. According to surviving relatives, Dawson and his brother Mitchell received considerable sums as inheritance from their aunt Fan Ware, sometime in the 1940s.
68 Op. cit., Dawson, “Inventory of Paintings and Sculptures.”
69 Letter to Richard T. Hirsch, Special Curator, Michner Collection, The University of Texas, Austin, Texas, from Karl Nichel, Assistant Curator, Ringling Museum of Art, 6/8/1969, Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida.