Arthur Dove painted Rain or Snow in 1943 in Centerport while confined to his home because of deteriorating health; the title and image may represent a winter storm that he viewed from his window. In an attempt to defy the two-dimensional picture plane, Dove transformed the painting itself into a “window” by applying aluminum strips to either side of the canvas. Within this framework, luminous, transparent, and rectangular shapes suggesting clouds or large snowflakes drift and overlap in a void. Additional elements of an outdoor scene are suggested by diagonal brown strips as branches and thin, vertical lines as streaks of rain. Beyond the framing device are bands of open space rendered in various colors and shapes. Duncan Phillips admired the painting, stating, “The space, the balance, and directions are all perfect and the aesthetic joy comes from a personal experience in nature.”
From the late 1930s to the mid-1940s, Dove’s approach became more intellectual and objective as he experimented further with abstraction and with spatial, geometric, and color relationships. Although he still gained initial inspiration from nature and continued to paint in an intuitive manner, he now reduced elements to their simplest forms and either stressed flatness or spatial ambiguity. He deemphasized the descriptive details, inner energies, or poetry of the subject and focused on the arrangement of forms in space and the selection of colors. His late works, expressions of pure color and form, anticipated the creations of then-emerging Abstract Expressionists like Gottlieb and Rothko.