“Leon Dabo: En France Encore,” a show timed to coincide with the Santa Barbara Museum of Art’s major Van Gogh-themed exhibition, is on view through March 28 at Sullivan Goss Gallery, 11 E. Anapamu St.
“Leon Dabo was a French-born American artist who became well known before the first World War as a tonalist painter,” said Nathan Vonk, owner of the Sullivan Goss Gallery. “As one of the organizers of the 1913 Armory show in New York City, Mr. Dabo played a key role in introducing impressionism, post-impressionism and modernism to an American audience.
“After his time spent in Europe as an intelligence officer during the first World War, his work took a dramatic turn toward post-impressionism with pieces that show the obvious influence of Van Gogh’s work, an aesthetic lineage that only became stronger after the second World War.”
This body of work was largely overlooked during the artist’s life and by early biographers. This group of paintings, many of which were painted after his 80th birthday, now seem to be among Mr. Dabo’s boldest and most unique.
As part of its ongoing scholarship on the artist, Sullivan Goss will be releasing its fourth publication on the artist to accompany this exhibition, according to Mr. Vonk, adding that the artist made his living early on doing decorative art and design for interiors, especially the interiors of churches and synagogues.
“Starting around the turn of the century, however, he began to actively seek a living as a fine artist with an increased focus on easel painting,” said Mr. Vonk. “He found his earliest success as a tonalist, a painter who restricted both the contrast and the hue of his paintings of New York and the Hudson River Valley. A string of successful shows across the United States and abroad confirmed him as one of America’s preeminent painters in the tonal tradition.”
In 1910, Mr. Dabo joined his friends from the Ashcan School in showing at the Exhibition of Independent Artists. Later, he joined his Ashcan friends and other progressive artists in forming the Association of American Painters and Sculptors to mount the International Exhibition of Modern Art, better known as “The Armory Show.”
“A few years later, he would help form The Pastelists, a group of leading American artists devoted to pastel as a primary medium for fine art,” Mr. Vonk said.
With an almost 15-year string of increasing fame and exhibition opportunities, Mr. Dabo stopped to join the Army, serving as an officer in World War I.
“His career languished a bit, but by the early 1930s, he was back in the swing of things with a body of floral still lifes in both oil and pastel,” Mr. Vonk said.
“World War 11 caught him at age 75 in Paris with 300 works of art and a Jewish wife. His palette grew darker, and his paint application, more passionate and even violent. It wouldn’t lighten until the end of the war, though he found great success in a 1941 exhibition entitled ‘When I Last Saw France.’
“After the war, his palette lightened and expanded to encompass a full rainbow of hues. His brushstroke loosened, and he happily painted Provence, showing in a tribute exhibition to Cezanne.
Mr. Vonk said that when the Santa Barbara Museum of Art first reached out looking for partners to collaborate with them during the run of its Van Gogh show, “it would have been impossible to foresee how the upcoming global pandemic would postpone its enormous efforts.
“But our excitement to show the late work of Leon Dabo concurrently with the Van Gogh exhibition immediately across the street made it an easy decision to postpone our show, too, until the stars were realigned.”