Leon Dabo Biography

Vase Blanc Avec Fleurs, Late 1930s

36 x 27 inches  |  oil on canvas

Leon Dabo (1864-1960) was a vigorously productive and successful artist who began his career in the early 1890's as a master muralist working on large commissions in public institutions, churches and synagogues in New York, Brooklyn, Long Island and Philadelphia. During that period, he worked under the direction of John La Farge (1835-1910), then one of New York's most respected artistic innovators and technicians. His first successful submissions into juried art competitions were made in 1901 to the 39th Annual Exhibition at the Bridgeport Public Library and the 76th Annual Exhibition at the prestigious National Academy of Design in New York. In the next few years, Dabo may have submitted to major annual exhibitions around the country, but was apparently rejected, a rejection he would recount for years.

Still, recognition was close at hand. In May of 1905, he had five paintings accepted for the Winter Exhibition at the National Arts Club in New York. This began an unbroken sixteen year string of one hundred and one public exhibitions that extended into the first years of World War I. In this period, he exhibited more than seven hundred canvases in sixty-four venues, including thirty-five solo exhibitions. Few American artists could boast of careers with such success. In this phase of his life, Dabo participated in two exhibitions that would change the course of American art forever: the 1910 Exhibition of Independent Artists organized by 'The Eight' and the storied 1913 'Armory Show' in New York, for which he was an organizer.

Early in 1918, Dabo joined the war effort, eventually serving on General Hersey's staff. In March of 1919, he returned home and once again took up the brush. For More on Dabo's Service in WWI, click here. At fifty-five years old, he was no longer as phenomenally productive as he was in his earlier years. Between March of 1920 and June of 1939, Dabo participated in forty-two exhibits, showing nearly two hundred canvases in thirty-three venues. Prominent galleries like Knoedler & Co. showed his work and he was made a Chevalier in the French Legion of Honor for his contribution to the arts. He was also elected as an Associate Member of the National Academy.

When World War II broke out in Europe, he and his wife were living in Paris, where he exhibited regularly in several galleries. He was unable to get his wife and his life's work out of the city before the Germans marched into Paris in June of 1940.

There were a number of formidable problems for all Americans trapped in Paris without exit visas, but the seventy-five-year-old Dabo had additional complications. He was a distinguished veteran of the First World War, decorated for his participation in Verdun and the offensive at Sonne. He also had his life's work - over three hundred canvases - that he wanted to save and bring back to the States. And, his wife, Stephanie Ofenthal, was Jewish.

It took four months, but he got himself, his wife and the three hundred canvases across the border through Spain, to Portugal, and eventually back to New York. In 1941, Feragil Galleries of New York helped him publicize the struggle of the French people living under Nazi occupation and his own heroic escape with an exhibition entitled "When I Last Saw France." Many of the major U.S. newspapers reviewed the exhibition.

In the final twenty years of his life, a time for complete retirement, Dabo still managed to enter twenty-two exhibitions, where he showed more than fifty canvases, and was made a full signatory member of the National Academy. Though his health declined considerably in the last five years of his life, he managed to paint into his ninety-first year.

By the end of his life, he had exhibited over a thousand canvases. Solo exhibitions of his work in the United States were held in Los Angeles, Chicago, Indianapolis, Boston, New York and Washington, DC. Internationally, he had one-man shows in Montreal, London, Dresden, Berlin and Paris. Though Dabo was upset by early rejections, his lifetime record would be the envy of most artists. At the time of his death, his work was held in the permanent collections of fifty of the finest museums in the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian, the Mus'e d'Orsay and the Louvre.

Videos

1:15 | Released for LEON DABO: Light Fall, 2017

3:43 | Narrated by Jeremy Tessmer | Released for LEON DABO: Art for Art's Sake, 2014

3:15 | Narrated by Susan Bush | Released for In Defense of Beauty: Leon Dabo's Floral Oils, 2014

4:57 | Narrated by Jeremy Tessmer | Released for Tonalism Then: 1870-1930, 2013

3:34 | Narrated by Jeremy Tessmer | Released for The Life & Art of Leon Dabo, 2012

4:02 | Narrated by Frank Goss | Released for Leon Dabo: Toutes les Fleurs, 2012

4:34 | Narrated by Jeremy Tessmer | Released for The Drawings of Leon Dabo, 2012

More Information

AN ANALYSIS OF THE ARTIST'S WORK

Leon Dabo was a pivotal American artist in helping to push the Romantic sensibilities in late 18th and early 19th century painting into new territory with the infusion of ideas from the Aesthetic Movement and its Asian art forebears, Symbolist painting, and Tonalism. In practice, Aestheticism, Symbolism and Tonalism overlapped to a significant degree, and artists like James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) and Leon Dabo are often talked about as having belonged to more than one of these schools.

Dabo studied with the great Tonalist and Aesthete Whistler and with Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, the French Symbolist. He also studied with John La Farge, from whom the younger artist learned about technique and the innate value of beautiful environments. Dabo's art stayed true to the philosophy of "Art for art's sake," an expression so often ascribed to the Aesthetic Movement that also signaled the late nineteenth century shift in art's function from one of moral instruction towards one of poetic evocation and sensuous pleasure.

Gradually, Dabo's ability to ground his progressive ideas about art in the rigor of traditional Academic craftsmanship made him one of the more sought after artists in the early 20th century. His facility with both French and English and his strong cross-Atlantic ties made him an ideal choice to help organize the International Exhibition of Modern Art (also known as the Armory Show) in 1913, an exhibition that would change the course of art on both sides of the Atlantic forever more.

 

AWARDS & AFFILIATIONS

1946 - Member, National Academy of Design, New York, NY

1938 - Silver Medal, Societe de Amis des Arts, Versailles, France

1938 - Gold Medal, Societe National des Beaux Arts, Paris, France

1934 - Associate Member, National Academy of Design, New York, NY

1934 - Legion of Honour - Chevalier, Paris, France

1909 - William T. Evans Prize, National Arts Club, New York, NY

1909 - 1st Prize, Muncie Art Association, Muncie, IN for "Dawn"

Allied Artists of London, London England
American Painters and Sculptors, founding member
Association of American Painters and Sculptors
Brooklyn Society of Artists, Brooklyn, NY
Hopkin Club of Detroit, Detroit, MI
Independents (through involvement with Exhibition of Independent Artists)
Les Amis des Arts, Arles, France
Les Mireilles, Avignon, France
Legion of Honor, Paris, France
National Society of Mural Painters
National Arts Club, New York, NY
National Academy of Design, New York, NY
National Arts Club, Life Member
New York Historical Society, New York, NY
Pastelists, New York, NY (Inaugural President)
Poetry Society of America, New York, NY
Royal Society of Arts and Sciences, London, England
Salon d'Automne, Paris, France
Salon Nationale des Beaux Arts, Paris, France
School of Arts League, New York, NY
Societie des Amis du Louvre, Paris France

 

COLLECTIONS

Arbuckle Institute, Brooklyn, NY
Ball State University Museum of Art, Mucie, IN
Beloit College, Wright Museum of Art, Beloit, WI*
Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, NY
Cooper Hewitt, National Design Museum, New York, NY
DelAware Art Museum, Wilmington, DE
Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI
Federal Reserve Board, Fine Arts Program
Florence Griswold Museum, Lyme, CT
Figge Art Museum, Davenport, IA*
Harvard University Fogg Art Museum, Boston, MA
The Frick Collection, New York, NY
Cornell University, Johnson Museum of Art, Ithaca, NY
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, IN
John H. Vanderpoel Art Association, Chicago, IL
Long Island Museum of American Art, Stony Brook, NY
Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Mn
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, TX
Montclair Art MuseuM, Montclair, NJ
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal, Canada
Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, South Hadley, MA
Musée Avignon, Avignon, France
Musée de Louvre, Paris, France
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, France
Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France
Museum of Art, Oran, Algeria
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
Museum of the City of New York, New York, NY
Muskegon Museum of Art, Muskegon, MI
National Academy of Design Museum, New York, NY
National Arts Club, New York, NY
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canada
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, NJ
Newark Museum, Newark, NJ
New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, NJ
Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon, TX
Poland Springs Museum of Art,
Poland Springs, ME
Portland Town Club, Portland, OR
Reading Public Museum, Reading, PA
Riverside Museum, Riverside, NY
Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, Waltham, MA
Saginaw Art Associaton, Saginaw, MI
Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis, MO
Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA
Swope Art Museum, Terre Haute, IN
Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, OH
Tokyo Museum of Art, Tokyo, Japan
University of Minnesota, Tweed Museum of Art, Deluth, MI
University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, MN

 

MURAL COMMISSIONS

St. John's Seminary, Brooklyn, NY
Chapel at St. John's Seminary, Brooklyn, NY
Church of St. Mary, Long Island City, NY
Temple Israel, Brooklyn, NY
Sacred Heart, Bloomfield, NJ
Church of the Nativity, Manhattan, NY
St. John the Baptist Church, Brooklyn, NY
St. Benedict Joseph Labre, Richmond Hill, NY
St. Pauls, Brooklyn, NY
Holy Cross Church, Brooklyn, NY
St. John's Church, Utica, NY
St. Stephen's Church, Brooklyn, NY
State Capitol Building , Harrisburg, PA
Flower Memorial Library, Watertown, NY
Chapel of Jesuit Retreat House, Monroe, NY
St. Paul the Apostle, New York, NY

 

CHRONOLOGY

1864  Dabo is born on July 9th.
1870  Dabo's family emigrates to the US, where his father begins to train his son in painting for architectural decoration.
1883  Dabo takes a job with architectural design firm, J&R Lamb, through whom he meets his first major mentor, John La Farge (1834-1910). In his off hours, Dabo studies at the Art Students League of New York.
1885-92  Dabo goes abroad to study, setting up in Paris at the École des Arts Decoratifs, the École des Beaux Arts and the Academie Julian under Daniel Vierge and Pierre Galland. He also studies privately with the Symbolist painter, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898). While in Florence, he studies mosaic technique at the Medici Palace, and while in Rome, he studies mural design and executes murals with Pietro Gagliardi. In London, Dabo is a frequent visitor to Whistler's studio, where he admitted “being Whistler’s pupil meant sweeping his studio, going out for vermillion and paying for a tube without being reimbursed.”
1892-1904  Dabo returns to New York, where he takes up his association again with J&R Lamb and with John La Farge. He executes important commissions for the murals for St. John the Baptist Church in Brooklyn, the Capitol Building in Harrisburg, PA, the Holy Cross Church in Flatbush, NY, and he Roswell P. Flower Library in Watertown, NY.
1892-1904  Dabo returns to New York, where he takes up his association again with J&R Lamb and with John La Farge. He executes important commissions for the murals for St. John the Baptist Church in Brooklyn, the Capitol Building in Harrisburg, PA, the Holy Cross Church in Flatbush, NY, and he Roswell P. Flower Library in Watertown, NY.
1892-1904  Dabo has solo exhibits in New York, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles before traveling to England with Alvin Langdon Coburn and George Bernard Shaw. As a guest at the estate of Lord Ebury, Dabo painted Moore Park, which was later purchased by the Luxembourg, Museum in Paris, now in the collection of the Musee D’Orsay, Paris. More exhibitions followed at the Goupil Gallery in London and again at the National Arts Club in New York.
1908  Dabo shows three paintings in the Contemporary Art exhibit at the National Arts Club in New York where he is awarded the William T. Evans Prize.
1909  William Evans subsequently donates Evening on the Hudson to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.
1910  Dabo participates in the “Independents” exhibit organized by “The Eight” in New York City. He also exhibits at the Allied Artists Association in London and at the Berlin Academy of Art to enthusiastic reviews.
1911-1913  Dabo becomes a founding member of the American Painters and Sculptors and helps organize "the Armory Show" of 1913, going so far as to host many of the preliminary meetings at his studio on 23rd street. He exhibits four paintings in the Show, one of which is purchased by Mrs. Payne Whitney. In Richfield Springs, NY, he directs the transformation of an old sawmill into art studios for the Richard Montgomery Art Colony. He is also accepted into the permanent collections of the Luxembourg Museum in Paris, the National Gallery of Ontario, the Brooklyn Art Museum, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
1914  Dabo's painting, The Cloud, is purchased by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
1917-1920  Dabo travels abroad as a member of the American Financial Mission to the allies. His linguistic abilities lead to service in the French, British and American armies as Captain during the First World War. When he gets home, he lectures extensively on art at Columbia University and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.
1921-1932  Dabo paints extensively along the East Coast, from Long Island sound to Maine, making many plein air études of still-lifes, works on paper, oil studies of clouds, rock formations, mountains, and the sea. Starting in the late 1920s, he joins the artist colonies of Connecticut, teaching and painting in the Litchfield Hills from 1928 – 1932.
1933-36  Dabo exhibits his flower paintings and pastels at M. Knoedler & Company inNew York. Many of these floral works show the influence of his early mentor John La Farge, his admiration of the symbolist Odilon Redon, his love of the Oriental Masters, and his contact abroad with the French Impressionists.
1934  Dabo is elected associate member of the National Academy of Design and is awarded the Cross of Knight of the French Legion of Honor for his contribution to art.
1937-1940  Dabo returns to France and establishes a studio is Paris. While in France, he paints the Normandy coast, the French Alps, Tallories, Lac Annecy. As the Nazi's hold growsw more restrictive, Dabo traveled to the south of France were he paints St. Tropez and Cagnes-sur-mer. He is awarded the Gold Medal at the Societé National des beaux Arts, Paris, and a Silver Medal at the Societe des Amis de Art, Versailles. Before leaving occupied France in 1940, Dabo aids in smuggling art works by Walter Sickert and Fernand Léger out of France and saving them from probable confiscation.
1941-43  Dabo returns to New York to paint the Hudson.
1944  Dabo is a elected an Academician of the National Academy of Design.
1948-51  Dabo returns to France for the last time. While there, he paints the French countryside, including a sizable number of canvases of Mont Sainte Victoire and its environs, a subject studied extensively by his old friend Cézanne. In 1951, he shows some of these works at Painters of Mont Ste. Victoire: Tribute to Cézanne, held at the Musée Garnet in Aix-en Provence.
1960  At the age of 95, Dabo sees his work included in the fiftieth anniversary of the Exhibition of Independent Artists in 1910 held at the Delaware Art Center Wilmington and the Graham Gallery, New York. Dabo died in New York City on November 7th.

 

 BIBLIOGRAPHY

1. A substantial portion of the research herein was provided by the owners of Stillwell House, an Antique & Fine Art Gallery. Manalapan, NJ, 2011.
2. Hartmann, Sadakichi Harmann. The Whistler Book. Boston: L.C. Page & Co., 1910.
3. Narodny, Ivan. American Artists. New York: Roerich Museum Press, 1930.
4. Gimpel, Rene. Diary of an Art Dealer. New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1966.
5. Sweeney, J. Gary. Artists of Michigan From the Nineteenth Century. Muskegon:Muskegon Museum of Art, 1987.
6. Weber, Bruce and William Gerdts. In Nature's Way: American Landscape Painting of the Late Nineteenth Century. West Palm Beach, FL: Norton Gallery of Art, 1987.
7. Tottis, James W. Forging a Modern Identity: Masters of American Painting Born after 1847; American Paintings in the Detroit Institute of Arts, Vol. III. Detroit: Detroit Institute of Arts, 2006.
8. Cleveland, David. A History of American Tonalism. New York: Hudson Hills Press, 2011.

EXHIBITIONS


Solo Exhibitions (selected from list of 54 solo exhibitions)

2014  In Defense of Beauty: Leon Dabo's Floral Oils, Sullivan Goss - An American Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA

2013  Leon Dabo: Toutes Les Fleurs, Sullivan Goss - An American Gallery, Santa Barbara, CAGroup Exhibitions (selected from list of over 240 group exhibitions)

2013  The Life and Art of Leon Dabo: A Retrospective , Sullivan Goss - An American Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA

1999  Leon Dabo: A Retrospective D. Wigmore Fine Art, Inc., New York, NY

1964  Leon Dabo Davis Galleries, New York, NY

1963  Retrospective University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, MI

1962  Graham Gallery, New York, NY Retrospective

1941  Ferargil Galleries, New York, NY

1938  Galerie Zak, Paris, Francis

1933  Knoedler Galleries, New York, NY

1931  Ferargil Galleries, New York, NY

1920  Long Island Painters Plymouth Institute, New York

1918  An Exhibition of Oils by Leon Dabo Art Institute of Chicago

1917  Exhibition of Paintings by Leon Dabo Goupil Galleries

1917  Goupil Galleries, New York, NY

1913  Gougland Drimi Fisher & Co., London, England

1912  Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA

1912  Corcoran Gallery, Washington, DC

1912  Coffier Art Galleries, New York1906 Anderson Art Gallery, Chicago, IL

1912  Powell Art Gallery

1912  Folsom Galleries, New York, NY

1911  MacDowell Club, New York

1911  Walker Gallery, Montreal, Canada

1911  Exhibition of Recent Paintings Otto Fukushima, Elite Art Rooms, New York, NY

1910  Bruno Cassirer Gallery, Berlin, Germany

1911  Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA

1910  Reinhardt Galleries, Chicago, IL

1909  Charleston Gallery, Saginaw, MI

1909  Muncie Art Association, Muncie, IN

1909  National Arts Club, New York, NY

1908  Gurlitt Gallery, Berlin, Germany

1908  Gouplil Gallery London, England

1908  Allied Artists Association Ltd., London, England

1907  Fritz Gurlitt Gallery, Berlin, Germany

1907  Poland Spring Art Gallery, ME

1907  A.R. Kohlman Gallery, Indianapolis, IN

1907  Academy of Fine Arts, Chicago, IL

1906  National Arts Club, New York, NY

1906  Blanchard Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
 
1906  Rowlands Gallery, Boston, MA


Group Exhibitions (selected from list of over 240 group exhibitions)

2013  The Armory Show at 100, 1913, New York Historical Society, New York, NY

2013  The New Spirit: Art in the Armory Show, 1913, Montclair Art Museum, Montclair, NJ

2012  Modernizing America; Artists of the Armory Show, Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, NY

2003  After Whistler: The Artist and His Influence on American Painting, High Museum Museum of Art, Altanta, GA

2002  L'Impressionisme Americain 1880-1915 Fondation de l'Hermitage, Lausanne, Switzerland

1999  American Tonalism: Selections from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Montclair Art Museum, Montclair Art Museum, Montclair, NJ

1997  American Tonalism Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY

1988  75th Anniversary Armory Show, New York, NY

1982  Tonalism: An American Experience The Grand Central Art Galleries, New York, NY

1961  National Academy of Design

1960  Fiftieth Anniversary: Artists in 1910 Delaware Art Center, Wilmington, DE

1951  Painters of Mt. Ste. Victoires Tribute to Cezanne

1951  Painters of Mont Ste.-Victoire: Tribute to Cezanne Musee Graner, Aix-en-Provence, France

1939  Exhibition Celebrating Opening of Albert Canal, Liege, Belgium

1939  London Group Show with French Artists, London, England

1939  Societe Nationale de Beaux Arts, Paris, France

1939  Salon des Tuileries, Paris France

1939  Jeunes Artistes Francais "Jeunes Artistes Francais," London Fourth Fidac Salon, American Section, London, England

1938  Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

1938  Societe des Artistes Independents, Paris, France

1938  Societe Nationale de Beaux Arts, Paris, France

1938  Salon d'Automme, Paris, France

1925  Annual Exhibition Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art

1923  Annual Exhibition Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art

1920  Knoedler Gallery, New York, NY

1919  Ardsley Studios, Brooklyn, NY

1913  Armory Show, New York, NY

1912  Corcoran Gallery, Washington, DC

1912  Powell Art Gallery

1912  Worcester Art Museum, MA

1912  Association of Italian Artists, Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, Italy

1911  Art Institute of Chicago

1911  MacDowell Club, New York, NY

1911  Worcester Art Museum, MA

1911  Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts

1910  Exhibtion of Independent Artists, New York, NY

1910  Royal Academy, Berlin, Germany

1909  National Arts Club, New York, NY

1908  Applied Artists Association Ltd, London, England

1907  Annual Exbibition, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art

1906  Annual Exhibition Art Institute of Chicago

1901  39th Annual Exhibition Bridgeport Public Library, Bridgeport, CT

1901  National Academy of Design
 

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