Edwin Dickinson (1891-1979) "Self Portrait in Uniform," 1942. Oil on canvas, 24 1/8" × 29 1/2". Courtesy of Babcock Galleries, New York.


Almost any of Edwin Dickinson’s paintings could serve as a primer on the art; there is so much to be learned from his work about depicting people, landscape, light, and air, not to mention about the application of paint itself. Yet as his one-shot plein air improvisations show, there are no academic givens when it comes to achieving a startling accuracy of description. Dickinson’s paintings implicitly argue for the crucial importance of seeing imaginatively, as though for the first time. His descriptions do not rely on conventionally-known signifiers, and certain pictures hang marvelously by a thread, on the verge of being smudgy abstractions. Not for nothing was he held in such high esteem by action painters of the New York School. Jack Tworkov, as we learn in John Driscoll’s catalog note, considered Dickinson “the greatest painter America has produced.”
Along with his bravura landscapes, also on view are Dickinson’s dreamy 1927 portrayal of the sleeping Frances Foley, his “Self Portrait in Uniform” of 1942, and a corresponding, elusive portrait of his daughter Helen done the year before. These exacting studies, completed over many sessions, show both the artist’s grounding in 19th-century tradition and the dark side of Dickinson’s artistic temperament: ruminative and probing, always visionary.

More Articles by the Author

Robert Berlind