Arthur Wesley Dow, (American, 1857-1922)
Gables by the Old Bridge
Woodblock print, ca. 1893-95.
This was one of the designs included in the 1895 corridor exhibition, Special Exhibition of Color Prints, Designed, Engraved and Printed by Arthur W. Dow, April 18-June 1, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, although this particular impression could have been printed at a later time as Dow often pulled new impressions to demonstrate the printing process to his students.
8 by 12.3 cm
Arthur Wesley Dow was a painter, photographer and printmaker, but perhaps his most lasting legacy is his continuing impact as an arts educator. Throughout his career, Dow endeavored to grow as an artist by reaching beyond traditional approaches to the fine arts while simultaneously sharing his insights through teaching. Dow taught in New York at the newly established Pratt Institute (1895-1903); The Art Students League (1898-1903); and later, he became the Director of the Department of Fine Arts at Teachers College, Columbia University (1904-1922). In 1891 he established his own Ipswich Summer School of Art in Massachusetts at which hundreds of students learned a variety of crafts as well as fine arts. In 1899 he published an arts manual, Composition, which revolutionized the way artists and art students approached concepts of design. It was extremely successful and influential; three editions were printed in the first year, and by 1938 there were twenty.
Dow did not set out to become an artist. Raised in Ipswich, Massachusetts, as a student Dow enjoyed history and language subjects, but lacked the funds to go to college. While earning a living as an elementary school teacher, he began helping a friend produce a local historical journal in 1879, The Ipswich Antiquarian Paper, which stimulated an interest in art and printmaking. Dow began formal art classes in 1880 with Anna K. Freeland in Worcester before moving to Boston for an apprenticeship in the studio of James. M. Stone (where he met his wife, Minnie Pearson). He managed to support himself by teaching art in the Boston area, while saving up enough money to fund a trip to Paris in 1884 to further his studies. While in Paris, Dow studied at the Académie Julian and earnestly applied himself to his work, hoping to find favor with the jurist of The Salon (the highly influential art exhibition of the Société des Artistes Français). During the same period, 'modern' artists such as Paul Gauguin, Paul Serusier, and Emile Bernard were beginning to assert themselves in the art world; the anti-establishment had arrived. Although Dow rejected abstraction, he was not entirely in disagreement with the sentiment from which it was born; he, too, was also becoming disillusioned with the traditional academic approach.
Dow returned to Boston in 1889 and began a new artistic journey via the public library. His most important revelation came when he discovered the art of Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). He famously wrote to his wife in 1890: "It is now plain to me that Whistler and Pennell whom I have admired as great originals are only copying the Japanese. One evening with Hokusai gave me more light on composition and decorative effect than years of study of pictures. I surely ought to compose in an entirely different manner and paint better." (Green, & Poesch, pp. 58-61)
The Estate of Arthur Wesley Dow
Meech & Weisberg, Japonisme Comes to America, 1990, pp. 163-179
Green & Poesch, Arthur Wesley Dow and American Arts & Crafts, 1999
Spanierman Gallery, Arthur Wesley Dow: His Art and Influence, 1999
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site last updated
September 22, 2020
Scholten Japanese Art
145 West 58th Street, suite 6D
New York, New York 10019
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