Born in Waterville, Minnesota in 1895, Adolph Arthur Dehn was the oldest son of a kindly German Lutheran feminist mother and a Prussian atheist father. They encouraged his independence and the boy enjoyed reading Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.
Dehn attended the Minneapolis School of Art, where he was among a dozen students who were offered scholarships to the Art Students League in New York.
Dehn was drafted by the Army at the end of World War I. He moved to Europe in the 1920s and joined a group of artists and intellectuals. As a lithographer and watercolorist, Dehn captured the jazz age in Berlin, Paris, and Vienna with a keen sense of satire and humor. In 1925, he changed the spelling of his name to Adolf.
His style evolved “by accident” in Paris, when Dehn spoiled a pristine lithography stone. Instead of throwing it away, he roughly cleaned it up, then attacked it with great gouges and deep scratches, experimenting with new tools and developing a signature technique.
A return to New York in 1929 gave Dehn the chance to satirize Manhattan nightlife. These images caught on with The New Yorker and Vanity Fair magazines. He also painted lyrical urban landscapes of New York and Central Park. He was a two-time recipient of the Guggenheim fellowship.
His first retrospective came in 1942, when critics praised him as a major American lithographer. Continuing success in the 1940s allowed him to travel and paint in Key West, Haiti, Cuba, Venezuela, and Afghanistan. His lithographs and watercolors, as well as contrasting evocative landscapes and droll caricatures, ensure his stature as an important American artist.