Arthur Dove preferred to live simply and to work quietly on a farm or boat in his native New York state. He thus appealed to Duncan Phillips as an individualist as well as an artist whose daringly abstract paintings seemed devoid of specific European influence and were not easily classified. As Phillips saw it, Dove strove "to suggest the sense of things—of both inert and living Elements." In Dove's own words, he was "primarily... interested in growing ideas into realities." The results were paintings in which organic shapes, undulating lines, bands of color, and glowing light evoke nature's underlying forces and the sensations Dove experienced when confronted with his environment.
Although Dove had exhibited his abstractions in New York at Stieglitz's Gallery 291, in the "Forum Exhibition of Modern American Painters" held at Anderson Galleries in 1916, and in the first exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in 1917, Phillips did not become familiar with his art until 1922. By then, not only was Dove's avant-garde style fully mature and more rooted in naturalism, but also Phillips was more receptive to abstract art. Indeed, Phillips admitted that his discovery of Dove increased his open-mindedness and receptivity to the formal elements of painting, thereby redirecting his collecting activity: "I then learned that I was being attracted to an artist because he was strictly yet sensuously visual....One could not analyze him....He was so whimsical that he would be embarrassing not only to the literary critics but to the painters and teachers of painting who deal in theories and group movements."
The number of works in the Dove unit and its range (1925 to 1944) attest to Phillips's estimation of Dove as one of the most significant American artists of his day. He purchased his first works in 1926 and thereafter became a regular patron. The relationship became more formalized in 1933 through an arrangement whereby, in exchange for a monthly stipend, Phillips received first choice from Dove's yearly exhibition at An American Place, Stieglitz's third New York gallery. Although Phillips made similar arrangements with other artists from time to time, he was most constant in his support of Dove, purchasing at least two paintings every year until the artist's death. Because Dove's work was never widely understood or accepted during his lifetime, he depended a great deal on Phillips's support. Marsden Hartley exaggerated understandably when he wrote to Phillips in 1942 that "some of us who know Arthur Dove well are grateful to you for being the single person in the entire universe that likes his painting...for he is otherwise entirely destitute of patronage."
Because Dove was for the greater part of his career inspired by his surroundings, Phillips considered him "as American as Thoreau and Walt Whitman." His love of nature demonstrated an earthiness and ruggedness that, in Phillips's mind, had parallels with the mysticism of Native American art, not European modernist painting, which was the primary influence of the time. Along with Ryder and Marin, Dove fit into Phillips's romantic notion of the "nature poet" who painted from instinct and was free from the bonds of established artistic movements. Phillips viewed Dove's paintings as "cause for my rejoicing, as I look with alarm upon the growing standardization of art."