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 Leon Dabo  (1864 - 1960)

About: Leon Dabo
 

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Lived/Active: New York / France      Known for: River-scene and still life painting, decoration, murals

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BIOGRAPHY for Leon Dabo
Facts/Data
Birth
1864 (New Dabo, France)
 
Death
1960 (New York City)

Lived/Active
New York / France


1907


Often Known For
River-scene and still life painting, decoration, murals

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Categories of Interest

New York Armory Show of 1913
San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915
Tonalism
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following is from The New York Times Art & Design section, courtesy of Paul Gallagher, Stillwell House Fine Art and Antiques

Antiques Restoration Project: An Artist’s History and His Collection
By EVE M. KAHN
Published: July 19, 2012
   
Leon Dabo’s own descendants have heard little about him. Dabo, a French-born painter, died in 1960, at 96, after a restless career living in and around New York and in Europe and exhibiting in hundreds of group and solo shows. His early subjects were saints, and later he favored twilit riverbanks, battlefields, bouquets and eerie pastures striped with dead trees.

Dabo ended up estranged from his family, and he has largely fallen off the radar of art historians. Albert Douglas, 91, Dabo’s only grandson, told art dealers during a recent filmed interview that he hardly knew his grandfather. He does remember a debonair gentleman fond of expensive liqueurs and chronically short of cash who could “paint like a stream.”

“He’s turning out to be a man of parts, many parts,” Mr. Douglas told the interviewers, as they filled him in on episodes in Dabo’s life on the run from Nazis and in breakthrough shows alongside names like Kandinsky and Matisse.

The dealers who filmed the conversation, Frank Goss, Paul J. Gallagher and Ronald A. Knox, are now collaborating on publications, shows and Web postings to bring Dabo back into the limelight.

A few years ago Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Knox, who owns Stillwell House Antiques in Manalapan, N.J., discovered hundreds of Dabo paintings and drawings, along with tools and materials, in storage in upstate New York. A few months ago Mr. Goss bought the trove for a sum he describes as “serious seven figures,” to study and sell at his gallery, Sullivan Goss, in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Dabo’s original last name was Schott; family members apparently renamed themselves after their French hometown, Dabo, upon resettling in Detroit. Leon’s father, Ignace, was an ecclesiastical muralist, and in the 1880s Leon moved to New York as a teenager to help support the family by painting church and synagogue murals. He found an elite mentor, the artist and stained-glass designer John LaFarge, and then somehow financed travel and art lessons in Europe with Whistler’s avant-garde circle.

In 1889 Dabo married a British woman, Marie Jennie Ford, but by the early 1900s his adulterous ways seem to have driven them apart. “She tossed him out of their house with only his brushes in his hand,” or so legend has it, Mr. Goss wrote in an e-mail.

Dabo’s daughter, Madeleine, largely cut him out of her life. His son, George, committed suicide in 1910, at 17; he shot himself in the head after investing in the New York Stock Exchange and morosely obsessing over fluctuations in his net worth.

Dabo and his second wife, Stephanie Ofental, a translator from Warsaw who was Jewish, ended up in Paris just before World War II. The couple managed to escape persecution and return to New York, with a few hundred artworks in tow.

“He ran for his life with his Jewish wife, and with this painting,” Mr. Knox said, holding up a slightly torn 1930s picture of a bouquet during a recent tour of the Stillwell House collection.

In Dabo’s seven-decade career he hobnobbed with celebrities such as Marc Chagall and George Bernard Shaw. At the 1913 Armory show in New York, Theodore Roosevelt admired Dabo’s scene of a Canadian snowfall. Helen Hay Whitney wrote a poem about the canvas’s “old lost stars to rise and gleam” and “secret, haunting theme.”

Major institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Newark Museum and the Brooklyn Museum acquired his work. But he has had few shows since his death, partly because so many of his significant works and archival material were hidden away.

Stephanie Ofental Dabo did donate some of his papers to institutions such as the Smithsonian and the New York Public Library. But her collection of hundreds of paintings by her husband ended up bequeathed to a sister and then a succession of family friends, inaccessible to scholars.

Rumors of the collection’s survival did emerge in the art world, while the paintings were stacked to the ceiling at an upstate New York farmhouse. In 1999, D. Wigmore Fine Art in Manhattan brought out a few dozen pieces from the estate for a brief summer show. Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Knox eventually managed to persuade the upstate owner (who has requested anonymity) to relinquish it and then anxiously drove the truckloads of career legacy to New Jersey.

“We had chills the whole way,” Mr. Knox said.

They spent months photographing and cataloging and quietly spreading the news to dealers and scholars.

“We became crazy sentimental, like a family member, about protecting Dabo,” Mr. Gallagher said. Mr. Knox added, “We were always so hypercautious about not overexposing the estate.”

They called Mr. Goss, knowing that his gallery had handled estates for under-appreciated 19th-and 20th-century innovators, such as the Orientalist painter and designer Lockwood de Forest. Mr. Goss said in a phone interview that he was skeptical upon hearing about the Dabo bequest, since the art world is riddled with hype. Still, he added, something whispered to him that “this is a deal that might be real.”

He calculated his purchase offer partly based on healthy recent Dabo sales; in 2010, a lakefront twilight landscape brought $43,750 at Christie’s in New York, a public record for Dabo.

Sullivan Goss has already published a book about Dabo’s sketches, and a show of pastels with a catalog opens Aug. 2. Next year, Dabo drawings from the estate will be shown in the art gallery at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich.  Also for 2013 the New-York Historical Society is reassembling the contents of the 1913 Armory Show, where Dabo displayed his scenes of islands, riverbanks, storm clouds and the Canadian snowfall.

Sullivan Goss and Stillwell House, meanwhile, keep making discoveries. More descendants to interview have turned up, and there are countless religious murals to track down, mainly in and around New York. The leader of one decrepit house of worship in the region with dozens of Dabos — who requested anonymity to avoid attracting thieves — gave a tour one recent Sunday morning.

Canvases line the soaring, vaulted rooms stained by leaks in the roof. The portraits of dying and martyred saints need cleaning and repair, but scudding clouds and sunset streaks can still be made out in the backgrounds. “This must have been some church in its day,” the leader said.


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A painter with a long and productive career, Leon Dabo was known for his atmospheric, tonalist paintings, especially of the Hudson and East rivers in New York City in early morning and sunset times of day---"silent, introspective times of day that appealed to the Tonalist sensibility. . .  he emphasized gentle nuances of light and atmosphere, luminous color effects, and an innovative handling of space". (Lowrey 124)   Dabo also painted floral still lifes, and in the 1920s became a lecturer on art education and on specific artists including John La  Farge and James Whistler.

Newly discovered research, verified by gallery owner and art historian, Frank Goss has shown that Leon Dabo was born in France in 1864 and not as previously thought in Detroit in 1868. His father was Ignace Scott, an artist specializing in architectural decoration.  Dabo grew up in Detroit, Michigan, and was an apprentice to his father before going to New York City, where he worked for J. & R. Lamb studios and associated with John La Farge, painter and muralist. 

In 1886, Dabo went to Paris where, using letters of introduction provided by La Farge, met leading artists.  He studied with Daniel Vierge and Pierre Galland, and at the Ecole des Arts Decoratifs, Academie Julian and the Ecole des Beaux Arts.  He also went to Italy and London, where it is thought he spent time with James Mc Neill Whistler in his studio.   In subsequent paintings, Dabo reflected Whistler's influence including his philosophy of 'art for art's sake', his tonalist style, and his use of a monogram as a signature.   Dabo later considered himself an expert on documenting Whistler's paintings, as did others,  and Dabo became an authenticator and published writer work by Whistler.

In 1892, Dabo returned to New York City.  He took up his former career of architectural decorator and muralist of public and religious buildings.  He also painted river scenes, initially working in an inhibited-seeming academic manner but then loosening up in what was then regarded as modernist influences.   Among those artists whose work had an effect on him in addition to Whistler were French Impressionists and Japanese painters such as Hiroshige and Hokusai. 

Dabo's painting career ascended in 1905, when the National Arts Club, of which he was a member, sponsored a solo exhibition of his work, which critics generally praised and which brought him public attention.   Prominent collector and Tonalist enthusiast William T. Evans purchased some of Dabo's paintings, which conveyed special distinction.   In 1910, he participated in the "Independents" exhibit organized by The Eight in New York City, and in 1913, as a member of The Society of Painters and Sculptors, was one of the principle organizers of the New York City Armory Show that introduced modernist art from Europe to the United States.  

He was a member of the National Academy of Design, Scholastic Art League and Brooklyn Society of Artists.  In 1917, Dabo was commissioned and sent to France in the A.E.F. Corps of Interpreters.  In France he also received the Chevalier Legion of Honor award.

Dabo lectured on art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and at Columbia University in the 1920s, and in 1933 exhibited his flower painting and pastels at Knoedler Gallery, New York.  The New York Times in its review stated that these paintings were "a distinct contribution to be associated with the flower harmonies of Odilon Redon and of Fantin-Latour." (Falk)

In 1944 in his 79th year, Dabo was elected full Academician of The National Academy of Design.   He painted until his ninetieth year, and in 1960 died in New York City on November 7th.


Sources:
Carol Lowrey, 'Leon Dabo', The Poetic Vision: American Tonalism, p. 124
Peter Falk, Who Was Who in American Art, p. 808
Frank Goss, Email to AskART, 6/22/2012


Biography from Stillwell House Fine Art and Antiques:
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 owe 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 forty 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.”

Biography from Sullivan Goss - An American Gallery (Artists A-H):
"For almost 70 years, Leon Dabo's birth date was reported as July 9, 1868 and his birthplace was thought to be Detroit, MI.  Thanks to scholarship done by Victoria Lewkow in her 1981 thesis, Dabo's birth date was changed to July 9, 1865 based on data provided in the 1980's by the U.S. Census and early Detroit City Directories.  His birth place, at that time, was modified to be "Paris, France". 

Recently a French birth certificate dated July 9, 1864, surfaced on ancestry.com, which clearly states that Pierre Paul Leon was born to Ignace Schott and Madelaine Oberle', the parents of the artist, in New Dabo, France.  The artist would therefore have been 96 when he passed away in 1960.  

The Schott family came to the U.S. when Dabo was very young.  As happened to many emigres, the Schott family eventually changed their name to the more Americanized “Scott.”  Having come from the village of New Dabo in north-eastern France, the name adopted by young Leon became Leon Scott de Dabo, eventually Leon D. Dabo and finally he settled on Leon Dabo, the name he was known by for the last 60 years of his life.

Frank Goss
Sullivan Goss - An American Gallery
7 E. Anapamu St.
Santa Barbara, CA  93101


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