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Hood Museum of Art
Dartmouth College
Hanover, NH 03755
603.646.2808
hood.museum@dartmouth.edu

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Max Weber, American, 1881-1961

Portrait
About 1911
Oil on canvas
Gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller; P.935.1.74

 

Born in Russia, raised in the United States, and trained in Paris, Max Weber became one of the earliest American proponents of modernism. While abroad from 1905 to 1908, he studied the work of such avant-garde artists as Cezanne, Picasso, Braque, and Matisse, and toured important collections of non-Western art. Weber encountered a harsh artistic climate in New York when he returned in 1909. Traditional critics derided his 1911 exhibition at Alfred Stieglitz’s gallery “291,” including New York Globe critic Arthur Hoeber, who found his works “strange, crude, awkward, appalling” and deplored his “travesties of the human form.” In this composition, Weber drew upon the fragmented forms of cubism to create an unconventional psychological portrait. This tubular, almost mechanical body and the chiseled facets of the masklike face make this figure appear heavy and impenetrable, while her downcast head and closed, compact pose evoke a pensive and melancholy mood. Weber further heightens these effects through the somber palette, which is relieved only by the saturated colors and decorative flatness of the small still life in the upper right corner. Some of the most important early advocates of modernist American art previously owned this painting. It was first acquired by American artist Arthur B. Davies, who championed Weber’s work and collected his paintings from the outset. Davies played a major role in organizing the watershed 1913 Armory Show, which introduced modernism to a wide American audience. He later sold this painting to the Downtown Galleries, a pioneering gallery that promoted both modernism and folk art. In turn, the gallery sold it in 1929 to one of its major patrons, Abby Aldrich (Mrs. John D. Jr.) Rockefeller, who donated it to Dartmouth along with more than one hundred other works in 1935, five years after her son, Nelson, graduated from the College.

Last Updated: 4/29/09