Leon Dabo - Stillwell House Antiques

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LEON DABO Restoration Project: An Artist’s History and His Collection

Stillwell House Fine Art and Antiques represented the estate of Leon Dabo for the past decade and continues to be a part of the curation of this important artist.

LEON DABO 1864-1960

Painter, muralist and lithographer, a distinguished artist known to museums, curators and collectors worldwide. An American artist born in France, Dabo’s active career in art extended over a period of 80 years. He painted both in New York and France between the two world wars. He studied with some of the most influential painters of his day, John La Farge, Puvis de Chavannes, and James Abbott McNeill Whistler.

Dabo’s first teacher in New York City was John La Farge [1835-1910] where he followed La Farge’s artistic philosophy, that art should embody “more than a mere representation of external appearances,” that views of nature should transcend the physical and appeal to ones emotion. La Farge is also credited with Dabo’s introduction to flower painting.

In his early years in Paris, Dabo was a protégé of the renowned painter and muralist Puvis de Chavannes [1824-1898] many of his early landscapes owes much to his mentor in muted tonality, and evoking a dreamy quiet mood. In 1888 Dabo settled in London where he associated with such artistic personalities as James McNeill Whistler, Walter Sickert, George Bernard Shaw, Alvin Langdon Coburn, among others. But it was James McNeill Whistler [1834-1903] who had a profound and lasting influence on Dabo’s art. He closely followed Whistler’s theory of “Art for Art’s sake,” showing the close relationship between the soft, tonal quality of color with the careful placement of composition into decorative and harmonious elements.

Dabo was involved with and participated in two of the major events in the American Art scene; the Independents of 1910, and the Armory Show of 1913. His travels abroad between 1917-1920 as a member of the American financial Mission to the Allies, allowed him to meet other important artist’s of the day, and to study their work.

Dabo was commissioned by the Army’s Fourth Division under Major General Mark L. Hersey to execute five paintings depicting landscapes of historic sites during the first World War. Dabo continued to paint and exhibit in this country and Europe until his death in 1960, where he strove to realize new color sensations, mastering his use of light, texture and atmosphere.

His works are owned by over fourty museums in this country and abroad, among them;

The National Museum of American Art

Washington D.C. “Evening on the Hudson”

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, “The Cloud”, “New York Harbor from the Jersey Shore“, “Marine”

Musee D’Orsay, Paris, France “Moore Park”

The Musee de Lourve, Paris, France, “Citadel”.

During his life he was awarded the Cross of Knight of the French Legion of Honor for his contribution to art; He was a member of the National Academy of Design New York; Societe National des Beaux Arts, Paris; Societe des Amis des Arts, Versailles; Allied Artists Association, London; President of The Pastellists, New York; The New York Historical Society; Four Arts Society, New York; University Club, Paris; Association of Italian Artists, Florence, Italy; and a Life Member of the National Arts Club, New York.

Dr Kevin Avery, associate curator in the department of American Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, wrote in a museum catalogue in 1999:

“No landscape painter associated with Tonalism aligned himself so unmistakeably and consistently with Whistler than did Leon Dabo.”

The New York Times in it’s review of his Floral Etudes, drawings, and Pastels at M. Knoedler Company, New York City in 1933, wrote:

“A distinct contribution to be associated with the flower harmonies of Odilon Redon and of Fantin-Latour.”


Arbuckle Institute, Brooklyn, NY

Ball State University Museum of Art, Mucie, IN

Baltimore Museum, Baltimore, MD

Beloit College, Wright Museum of Art, Beloit, WI

The Brooklyn Museum , Brooklyn, NY

The Cooper Hewitt , National Design Museum, New York, NY

Davenport Museum of Art, Davenport, IA

Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, DE

The Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI

Federal Reserve Board, Fine Arts Program

The Florence Griswold Museum , Old Lyme, CN

Figge Art Museum, Davenport, IA

Harvard University Fogg Art Museum ,Boston, MA

The Frick Collection, New York, NY

High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA

The Herbert L. Johnson Museum of Art, Ithaca, NY

Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, NY

John H. Vanderpoel Art Association, Chicago, IL

Imperial Museum of Art, Tokyo, Japan

Indianapolis Museum of Art , Indianapolis, IN

Cornell University, Johnson Museum of Art, Ithaca, NY

Long Island Museum of American Art, Stony Brook, NY

Memorial Art Gallery of The University of Rochester, NY

The Metropolitan Museum of Art , New York, NY

Milwaukee Art Museum , Milwaukee, WI

Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MN

Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth, TX

Montclair Art Museum , Montclair, NJ

Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, South Hadley, MA

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal, Canada

Musée Avignon, Avignon, France

Musée d’Louvre, Paris, 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 Museum of American Art, Washington, DC

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

Riverside Museum, Riverside, NY

Reading Public Museum, Reading, PA

Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, Waltham, MA

Saginaw Art Association, Muncie, IN

The Saint Louis Art Museum, St Louis, MO

Sheldon Swope Art Museum, Terre Haute, IN

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC

Springfield Art Museum, Springfield, IL

Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA

Swope Art Museum, Terre Haute, IN

Tokyo Museum of Art, Tokyo, Japan

The Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, OH

Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, AL

University of Minnesota, Tweed Museum of Art, Deluth, MI

University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor MI



Leon Dabo was born in France on July 9th. In 1870, the Dabo family emigrated to America where Leon began his artistic training with his father, a painter and architectural decorator.


Dabo moved to New York City. There, he worked for the architectural design firm of J&R Lamb and continued his studies at the Art Student League of New York. Through his association with J&R Lamb, Dabo was introduced to John La Farge [1834-1910], subsequently becoming his pupil. La Farge became Dabo’s most enduring mentor. La Farge and Dabo would collaborate on several projects in architectural design, mural work and stained glass design. La Farge is also credited with Dabo’s introduction to flower painting. When Dabo decided to continue his studies in Europe, La Farge gave him letters of introduction and recommendation to a number of distinguished artists, among them Puvis de Chavannes [1824-1898].

1885-1892 Dabo lived and worked abroad, studying in Paris at the Ecole des Arts Decoratifs, the Ecole des Beaux Arts and the Academie Julian under Daniel Vierge and Pierre Galland. Privately he studied with the symbolist painter, Puvis de Chavannes. In Florence he studied mosaic technique at the Medici Palace and in Rome he studied mural design and executed murals with Pietro Gagliardi. In London, Dabo was a frequent visitor to Whistlers studio, where he admitted “being Whistler’s pupil meant sweeping his studio, going out for vermillion and paying for a tube without being reimbursed.” The influence of Whistler on Dabo’s art is immeasurable.


Back in New York, Dabo continued his association with J&R Lamb and with John La Farge. His important commissions were the murals for St. John the Baptist Church, Brooklyn, NY; The Capitol Building, Harrisburg, PA; Holy Cross Church, Flatbush, NY, and for the Roswell P. Flower Library in Watertown, NY.


Dabo was invited to exhibit his paintings at the National Arts Club in New York, being favorably received by critics and public alike, this effort began his assent to prominence as an important landscape painter. At this time he became acquainted with the critic J. Nilson Laurvik, and his long time patron Sir William Van Horne.


Dabo had 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. In 1908 Dabo showed three paintings in the Contemporary Art exhibit at the National Arts Club in New York where he was awarded the William T. Evans Prize. In 1909, Mr. Evans subsequently donated Evening on the Hudson to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.


Dabo participated in the “Independents” exhibit organized by “The Eight” in New York City. He exhibited at the Allied Artists Association in London and at the Berlin Academy of Art to enthusiastic reviews by such acclaimed critics as Sadakichi Hartman, Royal Cortissoz and J. Nilson Laurvik and patrons such as Hugo Reisinger and William T. Evans. Paul Clemens, chairman of the German Imperial Art commission said of Dabo, “He is perhaps the most brilliant figure among the young generation of New York landscape painters. He is the most striking individual and finest colorists of all.”


An activist in the growing contemporary and modern art movements, Dabo was an organizer of several exhibitions of new artists. He was the president of The Pastellists, which included several members of “The Eight”. A founding member of the American Painters and Sculptors and was one of the principle organizers of the Armory Show of 1913. Many of the preliminary meetings were held at his studio on 23rd street. He also exhibited four paintings at the 1913 Armory Show. One painting entitled "Canadian Night" was admired by Mrs. Payne Whitney and Theodore Roosevelt. He was appointed to two committees; the executive, with Jerome Meyers, and the publicity, with George Bellows, John Sloan and Guy Pene du Bois. In Woodstock, NY Dabo juried student art exhibitions and while in Richfield Springs,NY he directed the transformation of an old sawmill into art studios for the Richard Montgomery Art Colony. During this period several paintings by Dabo entered into the permanent collection of museums here and abroad. Among them the Luxembourg Museum in Paris, the National Gallery of Ontario, the Brooklyn Art Museum, the Fine Arts in Boston.


Dabo's painting, The Cloud, was purchased by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.


Dabo traveled abroad as a member of the American Financial Mission to the allies. His linguistic abilities led to service in the French, British and American armies as Captain during the First World War. It was at this time he was commissioned by the Army’s Fourth division to paint from life five landscapes of historic sites. Upon his return to New York, concerned about art education in America, Dabo lectured extensively on art at Columbia University, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.


Dabo moved on to a new kind of expression in his art, the paint is applied in a new way, emphasis was placed on surface quality and mass, form and line take precedence. These changes reflect his contact in his early years abroad with Cezanne, Monet, and Degas. Working extensively along the east coast of America, from Long Island sound to Maine, Dabo painted many plein air etudes favoring still-life, works on paper, oil studies of clouds, rock formations, mountains, and the sea. Starting in the late 1920s Dabo joined the artist colonies of Connecticut, teaching and painting in the Litchfield Hills from 1928 – 1932.


Dabo exhibited, for the first time ever, his flower paintings and pastels at M. Knoedler & Company New 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. The works were well received by critics, the New York Times in it’s review stated: “A distinct contribution to be associated with the flower harmonies of Odilon Redon and of Fantin Latour.” In 1934 Dabo was elected associate member of the National Academy of Design, New York and he was awarded the Cross of Knight of the French Legion of Honor for his contribution to art.


Dabo returned to France and established a studio is Paris. Donald and Charlotte MacJannet, progressive educators, invited Dabo to their home and school in Haute Savoie, now part of Tufts University. While there, he painted the Normandy coast, the French Alps, Tallories, Lac Annecy. As the Nazi's hold grew more restrictive, Dabo traveled to the south of France were he painted St. Tropez and Cagnes-sur-mer.. He was awarded the Gold medal at the Societe National des beaux Arts, Paris, and a Silver Medal at the Societe des Amis de Art, Versailles. Before leaving occupied France in 1940, Dabo aided with the transportation of art works by Walter Sickert and Fernand Léger among others, out of France and saving them from probable confiscation.


Back in the United States, He again returns to paint his beloved Hudson river, only this time reinterpreting its banks and surrounding landscapes with dramatic explorations of light and shadow. He helped organize the Four Arts Aid Association, a committee to send aid to artists in occupied France. In 1944, Dabo was elected Academician of the national Academy of Design, New York.


Dabo returned to France for the last time. While there he painted many canvases of the French countryside, particularly of Mont Ste. Victoire and its environs, a subject studied extensively by his old friend Cezanne. These Paintings were so successful, he was invited to participate in the exhibition titled “Painters of Mont Ste. Victoire: Tribute to Cezanne, held at the Musee Garnet in Aix-en Provence in 1951.


At the age of 96, Dabo saw his work included in the Fiftieth anniversary of the Exhibition of Independent Artist in 1910 held at the Delaware Art Center Wilmington; and the Graham Gallery, New York. Dabo died in New York City on November 7th.


The International Studio London, December 1905

Brush and Pencil Chicago, January 1906

The World Today James Pattison, Director Chicago Museum of Art The Paintings of Leon Dabo Chicago, October 1906

Art Bulletin New York, November 1906

World Today Chicago, January 1907

El Diario Illustrado Mexico, March 24, 1907

The Scrip New York, June 1907

Sketch Book Chicago, November 1907

John Spargo, Leon Dabo ‘Poet in Color’ The Craftsman vol.x111 December 1907

Kunst Fur Alle Munich, December 1907

The Spectator Portland Oregon, 1907

Success New York, March 1908

The International Studio Leon Dabo - Landscape Painter J. Nielson Lauvrik January, 1910

The Connoisseur London, June 1910

Masterpieces of American Art Christian Briton London, 1910

The Whistler Book Sadakichi Hartmann Boston, 1910

The New York Times November 21, 1912

New York American March 26, 1917

American Artist Ivan Narodny New York, 1930

Art Digest Summer, 1931

Art News May 6, 1933

The New York Times May 26, 1934

Herald Tribune, Paris October 22, 1938

Beaux Art, Paris October 28, 1938

La Vie, Paris November 15, 1938

L’Art Vivant, Paris February, 1939

L’Intransigeant, Paris May 6, 1939

Journal des Debats, Paris May 15, 1939

Art Digest April 1, 1941

New York American April 4, 1941

The New York Times November 9, 1960

Art Journal Spring, 1962

Art News March, 1962

Art News March, 1964

Art News March, 1967

Diaries of an Art Dealer, Rene Gimpel 1966

Tonalism : An American Experience

Grand Central Art Galleries 1982 Arts Magazine, Ilene Susan Fort Tonalism: An American Experience 1982

Artists of Michigan from the Nineteenth Century Muskegon Museum of Art 1987

In Natures Way National Academy of Design, NYC Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago 1987

Americans and Paris Michael Marlais Colby College Museum of Art 1990

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

Leon Dabo Retrospective D. Wigmore Fine Art 1999

l’Impressionnisme Americain 1880 -1915 Fondation de l’Hermitage, Lausanne, Switzerland 2002

The American Artist In Connecticut Florence Griswold Museum 2003

America The Beautiful Boca Raton Museum of Art 2003

Artists of The Litchfield Hills Mattatuck Museum 2003

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

The Poetic Vision: American Tonalism Spanierman Gallery, LLC, New York, November 12, 2005

The Daily Star Oneonta,NY 2005

A History of American Tonalism,1880-1920, by David Adams Cleveland 2010

The Drawings of Leon Dabo, by Jeremy Tessmer, and Frank Goss, Sullivan Goss An American Gallery 2012

The Pastels of Leon Dabo by Dr. William Gerdts, Frank Goss, and Nathan Vonk, Sullivan Goss An American Gallery 2012

The New Spirit, American Art in The Armory Show, 1913, by Gail Stavitsky, Laurette E. McCarthy, and Charles H. Duncan, Montclair Art Museum 1913

The Armory Show at 100, by Marilyn Satin Kushner, Kimberly Orcutt and Casey Nelson Blake, New York Historical Society 2013

Leon Dabo's Florals by Dr. William Gerdts, and Nathan Vonk, Sullivan Goss An American Gallery 2014