The Cleveland Museum of Art

Collection Online as of March 17, 2018

Differential Complex, 1910

oil on board, Framed: 54.6 x 44.4 x 5 cm (21 1/2 x 17 1/2 x 2 in.); Unframed: 40.7 x 31.8 cm (16 x 12 1/2 in.). Mr. and Mrs. William H. Marlatt Fund 2001.123

Differential Complex is one of seven pure abstractions Dawson created in 1910. It represents a major breakthrough in Western art-one of the first occasions in which an artist rejected representation and created a purely abstract composition. Dawson's works predate the paintings that are generally mentioned in art history textbooks as the world's first pure abstractions: the paintings created later in that same year by Arthur Dove (1880-1946) in Westport, Connecticut, and Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) in Munich, Germany.

Dawson seems to have absorbed the idea of abstract design through exposure to the work of Arthur Wesley Dow (1857-1922) in his high school art classes. In addition, he seems to have read books by Denman Ross, particularly Ross's A Theory of Pure Design, which proposed creating non-representational forms of art. Dawson's mathematical training and his work as an engineer also influenced his developments. Indeed, his early abstractions often suggest mathematical diagrams laid out on a blackboard. The radical geometric simplifications of Chicago architecture were another influence, as was the engineer's practice of thinking of structure in terms of invisible forces.

New York, NY, Whitney Museum of American Art, Manniere Dawson: Early Abstractionist (8 July - 11 September 1988).
MOCA Cleveland (6/9/2006 - 8/20/2006): "The Persistence of Geometry: Form, Content and Culture in the Collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art", no. 57, p. 118, color repr. p. 14 & p. 67.
Massillon Museum (5/15/2010 - 9/12/2010), Riffe Gallery (11/4/2010 - 1/9/2011), and Southern Ohio Museum (3/5/2011 - 5/29/2011): "Against the Grain: Modernism in the Midwest", ex. cat. no. 1, p. 34.

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Library materials about Dawson (22)

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