In the spring of 1937, Arthur Dove and his wife Helen Torr [see 1998.15] moved into downtown Geneva, New York leaving his family's nearby farm where they had lived since 1933. They took over the top floor of the Dove Block, a commercial structure erected by Dove's father. During this period, Dove began to acquire the increasing simplification of form and graphic power characteristic of his late work. In the large space he used as a studio in Geneva, he hung the compositions he had recently completed, including "Tanks," "Motor Boat," [1990.402] and "Sun on the Lake" [1990.372] and noted in a letter to his dealer Alfred Stieglitz, "They look big on this huge wall" (December 3, 1937 in Ann Lee Morgan "Dear Stieglitz, Dear Dove," Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1988, p. 392).
Dove had worked mostly with natural themes during the five years he had lived on the farm, but he now began to investigate the industrial subjects he found near his new studio, including a flour mill, a power plant, and the storage tanks seen in this composition. Rather than emphasize the solid forms of these manmade objects with crisp edges, as had other modernist painters including Charles Sheeler [1990.381; 1990.382], Niles Spencer [1990.448], and Ralston Crawford [1990.389], Dove depicted these tanks with delicate, calligraphic lines and subtle, but rich, colors. Set off by a halo of pale gray, the quivering structures almost seem to dematerialize and merge into the surrounding scenery, yet at the same time, they retain their hulking forms.
Dove is known for his compositions based on landscape - his longtime patron Duncan Phillips noted, "The forms in nature were to be his dictionary." (Phillips, "Foreward" in Frederick S. Wight, "Arthur G. Dove," Los Angeles, University of California Press, 1958, p. 13). Yet manmade objects, frequently mechanized or industrial, were also an important element in Dove's oeuvre. Gears, derricks, tugboats, barges, cars, sewing machines, and motors, among other things, appear frequently [see 62.1128; 1971.699, for example]. He subjected these manmade objects to the same experiments with abstraction that he used for rendering natural forms, often working with lush, harmonious color, as he did with Tanks.