Edwin Dickinson (1891 – 1978) was an American painter and draftsman best known for psychologically charged self-portraits, quickly painted landscapes, which he called premier coups, and large, hauntingly enigmatic paintings involving figures and objects painted from observation, in which he invested his greatest time and concern. Dickinson's art, always grounded in representation, has been compared to Surrealism, but the resemblance is superficial. His sensibility and emotional ties lie closer to Romanticism and Symbolism, and he was included in the Museum of Modern Art’s 1943 exhibition Romantic Painting in America.
Dickinson was born and raised in Seneca Falls, New York, in the Finger Lakes area; his family moved to Buffalo in 1897. In 1911 he enrolled at the Art Students League, where he studied under William Merritt Chase. In the summers of 1912 and 1913 he stayed in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he studied with Charles Hawthorne, and continued there year round from 1913 to the summer of 1916, working as Hawthorne's assistant in 1914. From late summer 1916 through year's end Dickinson investigated the possibilities of printmaking in Provincetown with fellow painter Ross Moffett, and made further attempts in the '20s and '30s, but felt his time was better spent painting.
Dickinson spent time teaching painting in Buffalo and working as a telegrapher in New York City until his naval service from late 1917 to 1919. In 1928 Dickinson married Frances "Pat" Foley. Esther Sawyer arranged for the sale of Dickinson's works, especially drawings, portraits, and landscapes to her wealthy friends, and in 1927 she and her husband purchased the important Dickinson painting An Anniversary (1920–21) and donated it to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Dickinson also devoted more time to his landscapes in the 1930s because they were easier to make and sell than his larger works, which he was having greater difficulty exhibiting in major exhibitions. A second trip to Europe with his family followed in 1937-38, where he painted landscapes in southern and northern France and visited Rome, Florence, and Venice until Hitler cut short his stay. While still abroad Dickinson had his first one person show in New York City at the Passedoit Gallery. It was well covered by art critics, with a generally favorable response. A year after the family's return Dickinson bought a house on Cape Cod in Wellfleet, which they continued to own and live in when he and his wife were not teaching in New York.
Dickinson remained active as a teacher into the 1960s, by which time his painting output had sharply diminished following the removal of a tubercular lung in 1959 and the increased demands imposed by his growing reputation. These included participation in numerous one-person and group shows, the most important of which were a large retrospective of his work in Boston in 1959, another in New York in 1961 that included 157 works and was reviewed by thirteen critics, followed by an exhibition of his work organized by the Museum of Modern Art that traveled to twelve venues in eleven states, another retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1965, covered by nine critics, and inclusion in the American exhibition at the 34th Venice Biennale, where he was the featured painter. Various honors, awards, interviews, and lecture requests followed. There is no record of his having painted after 1963. By 1970 he was displaying symptoms indicative of Alzheimer Disease and died in Provincetown on December 1, 1978.