Sand Barge was executed while Dove was resident caretaker at a yacht club on Huntington Harbor. He sketched from the balcony of the club as barges entered the harbor with their loads. Red Barge, one of the most naturalistic paintings by Dove in the Collection, also demonstrates his attraction to this theme.
The horizontal motif in the upper left could be a section of a crane, or it might be interpreted as a boat railing or distant bridge. The barge seems to be suggested by the blue, ocher, and gray central design. The triangular ground with specks of blue in the lower right might be the sand or a representation of the harbor's shoreline. Although inspired by an actual scene, Dove altered and rearranged its components to create a compelling, cohesive abstract image.
It was about this time that Dove began creating oils based on the watercolors he had executed outdoors. Here the final painting has a more compact design, more distinct outlines, and greater depth of color than the watercolor sketch on which it is based.
Sand Barge received favorable critical comment when it was first exhibited in 1931 at An American Place. Duncan Phillips was quick to claim the painting, praising its "exhilarating pattern" as representative of Dove's "forthright and rugged" American temperament.