Arthur Dove’s abstracted landscapes focus on the elemental nature of the earth. He reduced his images to a series of flat, abstract forms and colors to represent an abundant landscape. In 1930, when Dove painted Snow Thaw, he began using sketches and under-drawings in his work, as well as painting more on-the-spot and out-of-door sketches to capture nature’s changing presence. Dove attempted to paint the “icy reserve” of winter, which exemplifies his masterful balance of “visual reality and abstract form,” with an enigmatic and luminous glow that reflects Dove’s encounters with nature.
Dove painted Snow Thaw in 1930, at the time when Duncan Phillips and Dove’s friendship deepened and Phillips became a regular patron. Phillips spoke about Snow Thaw in a lecture he gave in 1931 about pieces in his permanent collection, shortly after acquiring the painting. “Instead of renouncing nature and its accidents,” Phillips wrote, “Dove bases his abstract patterns upon what he has observed, only taking care to let us know that he is dealing not with things . . . but with personal experiences of his own, his visual sensations and their lyrical inspiration.” Phillips celebrated Dove’s ability to infuse his canvases with subjective emotion, electrifying the visual experience.