Untitled Document

Artist Biography

 Preston Dickinson was one of the pioneers of modern art in the United States. He is often associated with the Precisionists, a loosely knit group of artists including Charles Sheeler, Charles Demuth, Peter Blume, Elsie Driggs, Georgia O’Keeffe, and George Ault, who depicted American industrial and urban scenes in a precise, ordered manner, simplifying the pictorial elements to their basic, geometric forms.

Born in New York’s Greenwich Village, Dickinson attended public school in Brooklyn and in the Bronx, then went to work as a clerk in a law firm. His artistic talents attracted the attention of a partner in the firm, Henry G. Barbey, who became Dickinson’s patron and sent him to study at the Art Students League in 1906.

Dickinson spent four years at the League, studying with William Merritt Chase, Edward Dufner, and Ernest Lawson. He visited museums and galleries, most notably Alfred Stieglitz’s 291 Gallery, where he saw works by Paul Cézanne as well as by the young American modernists Alfred Maurer, John Marin, Arthur Dove, and Max Weber. He also saw exhibitions of Japanese and Chinese painting. All of these influences had an effect on the development of his modernist aesthetic.

In 1910, Barbey agreed to send his young protégé to Paris, where Dickinson received what he later called his “real education.” He initially enrolled at the École des Beaux Arts and the Académie Julian, but like many of his fellow American students, he soon tired of the rigors of traditional training and left in order to pursue his studies on his own at the museums and the galleries that showed contemporary art. He expanded his exposure to Japanese art, and saw the work of such European modernists as Juan Gris, Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso, and Paul Cézanne. In 1912, he exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Francais. When he returned to New York in 1914, he was immediately invited to join the gallery of Charles Daniel, who championed a group of artists who became known as Precisionists. The Daniel Gallery was also an important venue for other young modernists, including Stuart Davis, Marsden Hartley, Rockwell Kent, John Marin, Man Ray, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, and William Zorach.

Dickinson’s first applied stylized cubist techniques to the urban setting of Harlem, and was especially drawn to structures like High Bridge. His dynamic images were noted for their grace, precision and remarkable elegance. During the 1920s, Dickinson expanded his subject matter to include still lifes, and investigated the modernist structure in more intimate objects.  

Preston Dickinson’s work is in many museum collections throughout the country, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Columbus Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Detroit Institute of Arts, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery.