Art: Incarnations of Tobey

When he died of bronchitis in Basel last month at the age of 85, Mark Tobey had long been the favorite American painter of those who, in general, disliked American art. For them, Tobey was the quintessential expatriate: an old man of august refinement and blunt disposition who had settled in Switzerland 15 years before and proved his vision by amplifying it far from his roots on the Seattle coast.

Tobey's work, small in size, immensely subtle in drawing, seemed distant from the large canvases and bold polemics of most New York painting. He had run through a number of incarnations: he...

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