Stuart Davis (painter)

Annie Lee | Jun 3, 2024

Table of Content


Stuart Davis (born December 7, 1892 in Philadelphia, died June 24, 1964 in New York) is an American modernist painter and printmaker, best known for his studies of everyday American life, depicted in bright colors. He became famous for adapting the language of jazz music to modern painting.

Youth and education

Stuart Davis was the son of Edward Wyatt Davis and sculptor Helen Stuart Davis. Both parents studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The mother exhibited her work in Philadelphia and New York. The father was head of the art department of the Philadelphia Press, where he employed his friends John French Sloan, William Glackens, George Luks and Everett Shinn as illustrators. In 1901, the Davis family moved to East Orange, New Jersey. In 1909 Davis dropped out of high school and spent the next three years studying at the New York art school of Robert Henri (founder of the grouping The Eight). Although he painted in a realistic style, he rejected academic idealism, urging his students to observe and make studies of urban life as they observed it in the streets, concert halls, taverns and other places. Davis' appreciation of modern and abstract art stems precisely from his interest in the work of future Ashcan School members.

Adaptation of the achievements of modernism

In 1913, Davis showed five watercolors at the Armory Show, an international exhibition of modern art that sparked his interest in the art of modernism. The exhibition was dominated by French artists, whose art had the most visible influence on American art. Thanks to the works of artists such as: Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, Marcel Duchamp and Pablo Picasso Fauvism and Cubism were extensively presented. Davis was able to see how avant-garde European artists, such as Henri Matisse and Paul Gauguin, implemented their innovative ideas about modern forms. They used colors that had no relation to reality. Davis became familiar with Cubism, which subjected forms to fragmentation, flattened space, and used words taken from newspaper headlines or product labels as compositional elements in paintings. In the years that followed, Davis made efforts to assimilate the acquisitions of modernism that he had experienced at the Armory Show, especially such things as color, form, and the treatment of the surface and composition of the work. He was aware that the experience he had gained from his time working with Robert Henri was no longer sufficient.

From 1911 to 1916, Davis worked as an illustrator and cartoonist for The Masses magazine, continuing his experimentation with various styles, including Post-Impressionism, Fauvism and Cubism. His many paintings from 1916-1919, such as Gloucester Street (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), Garage (1917, Collection of Earl Davis) and Gas Station (1917, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden), were characterized by bold colors and fluid, energetic brushstrokes. After two summers spent in Provincetown, Massachusetts, Davis became interested in the New England coast, becoming a regular in Gloucester during the summer seasons until 1934. Inspired by the paintings of Cézanne, Gauguin, Matisse and van Gogh, he painted colorful landscapes and harbor scenes. In 1921, he produced some of the most abstract works of his career, including paintings having as their subject cigarette packs, labels, light bulbs, mouthwash bottles, salt shakers and egg whisks, all inspired by Dadaism. Their example of these is the painting Lucky Strike (1921, Museum of Modern Art) showing a precisely painted pack of cigarettes in the style of Cubist collage, with overlapping colors, dark against light, with vertical and horizontal forms. In 1922, Davis became a member of the Modern Artists of America. As an established modern artist, he made his way into the circles of the New York avant-garde. Over the years, he befriended such abstract painters as Charles Demuth, Arshile Gorky, John D. Graham and the poet William Carlos Williams.

In 1927 and 1928 he worked on the well-known Eggbeater Series, a personal exploration of Cubist form and space, in which he used such objects as an eggbeater, an electric fan and rubber gloves. The series appears as a kind of catharsis, through which he tried to get rid of the last vestiges of illusionism in his work. He painted the aforementioned props, which are elements of still life, repeatedly until they ceased to exist in his eyes and mind, except for the relationship between color, line and shape. In these and some other works from the same period, he achieved a degree of simplified abstraction that exceeded all that he intended to create over the next ten years. He also established certain arrangement motifs in his paintings, which he later developed in other works.

Trip to Paris

After a successful debut at the Valentine Gallery, his sponsor, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney encouraged him to go to Paris. Taking advantage of her financial support, he went there together with his friend Bessie Chosak. In Paris, he set up a studio in the Montparnasse district. During his fourteen-month stay, he painted streetscapes, using brilliant colors and typically French details such as balustrades, shutters, mansards and cafes. In 1929 he married Bessie Chosak.

Return to the United States

In 1929, Davis returned to the United States. That same year, his mentor, Robert Henri, died. In the 1930s, America was gripped by the Great Depression. When in 1933 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt announced the launch of a federal program to support the arts, Davis was among the first to join. Between 1933 and 1939, he completed several murals as part of the Public Works of Art Program, Federal Art Project and Works Progress Administration projects. With financial support from the government, he was able to continue his exploration of formalism and American themes. To promote the interests of artists and protect them from war and fascism, he became a member of The Artists Union and the American Artists' Congress. In 1934 he was elected president of The Artists Union. From 1935 to 1936 he edited the magazine Art Front. However, he tried not to combine his social work with his artistic activities. In the 1930s, Davis' major paintings showed a continuation of the interplay of clearly defined, fragmented objects with geometric-abstract structure. At the same time, the artist conducted numerous experiments with full abstraction, especially in line drawings and paintings. His color became increasingly bright, and in many of his works he intensified the impression of pace, sense of movement, cheerfulness and rhythm through an increasing complication of smaller, more irregular and contrasting colored forms. The paintings of the early 1930s featured orderly, clearly recognizable objects: a gas pump, buildings, furniture, hats, cars and signs, placed in vibrant urban landscapes. In the works of the late 1930s, the objects were dematerialized, turning into forms with colorful contours. This was the beginning of twenty-five years of mature abstract painting in the artist's career. A certain exception to this was the large-scale (14 × 46 m) mural History of Communication from 1939, preserved only in sketch form, whose recognizable subject was probably conditioned by the circumstances of the commission.

However, in the early 1940s there were also paintings in the artist's oeuvre that presented a greater or lesser degree of figurativism, such as New York Under Gaslight from 1941. At the same time Davis produced a series of brilliant abstract landscapes: Hot Stillscape in Six Colors (1940), Arboretum by Flashbulb (1942), Ursine Park (1942) and Ultramarine (1943). Characteristically, they abandon naturalistic visual illusion, although they retain strong associations with landscape. Repeated, jagged forms create an overall fractured pattern. The colors used are decidedly red, green and blue, with distinct black and white breaks. In the late 1940s, Davis produced a series of small, experimental paintings, to which he gave the titles Pad (rather in the jazz sense) and Max, along with sequential numbers given to distinguish them. They are devoid of any elements associating them with figurativism, except for the word "Pad," and are expressions of abstract experimentation, from purely geometric forms to strongly expressionistic ones. An example of these is The Mellow Pad, which the artist worked on intermittently between 1945 and 1951, and which was an attempt to develop the aforementioned abstract sketches into a more monumental composition.

Parallel to his painting activities, Davis was active in teaching: in 1932 he taught at the Art Students League of New York, in 1940 he became a lecturer at the New School for Social Research, and in 1950 at Yale University.

Davis painted extensively until his death. In numerous small paintings, in oil or gouache, he experimented with new ideas or revisited older motifs for possible variant developments, such as Combination Concrete II (1958) or The Paris Bit (1959), a nostalgic pastiche of Parisian reminiscences. He left several unfinished paintings and drawings in his studio, which are a document of his creative methods and the inexhaustible fertility of his imagination. He also left many notebooks with observations and records of his ideas for possible development. Davis is almost the only American painter of the 20th century whose work transcended all changes in style, movement and fashion. Even in the 1950s, when Abstract Expressionism dominated the American scene, the artist still had respect and admiration for the most experimental new artists.

In later years, Davis continued to enjoy artistic success. In 1952 and 1954 he received, as a representative of the United States, awards at the Venice Biennale. In addition, in 1958 and 1960 he was awarded the Solomon R. Guggenheim International Prize. He died suddenly of a stroke, leaving behind an artistic legacy of paintings and a reputation as one of America's first modernists. Art critic Brian O'Doherty described him in the pages of The New York Times as "one of the few great painters America has produced who was never anachronistic."

Davis began his artistic career in the tradition of American realism, represented by the Robert Henri school. Later he explored Post-Impressionist and Fauvist painting, and in the 1920s - European techniques in the fields of abstraction and synthetic cubism. These experiences culminated in the Eggbeater Series. It is Davis who is credited with developing the American variety of European Cubism. His paintings, through the use of distinctly American slang and symbolism, solidified the position of the United States in the world of modern art. Davis was one of the first to treat jazz and swing together with painting. The use of bright, pulsating colors, expressive lines and repetitive shapes gave a visual rhythm to his paintings, reminiscent of the syncopation and improvisation so characteristic of jazz music. Davis introduced a new, post-cubist approach to abstraction, scattering shapes on the canvas and manipulating bold colors in such a way as to reject the focal point that focuses the viewer's attention. This new method, in which all parts of a painting are equal, conceived so that the viewer's eye can wander undirected, marked an important step toward the total abstraction made by Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock. Davis' transformation of consumer items and advertisements into works of art, in turn, foreshadowed the pop art of the 1960s. Davis remains one of the most important American artists working in the interwar period.

Prace Stuarta Davisa znajdują się w zbiorach głównych amerykańskich muzeów sztuki, w tym: Addison Gallery of American Art, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Art Institute of Chicago, Biblioteka Kongresu, Brooklyn Museum, Carnegie Museum of Art, Dallas Museum of Art, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Harvard University Art Museums, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Hyde Collection, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Memorial Art Gallery, Museum of Fine Arts w Bostonie, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Montclair Art Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Museum of Modern Art, Muzeum Thyssen-Bornemisza, National Gallery of Australia, National Portrait Gallery, Norton Museum of Art, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Phillips Collection, Portland Museum of Art, Princeton University Art Museum, San Diego Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Walker Art Center, Whitney Museum of American Art.


  1. Stuart Davis (painter)
  2. Stuart Davis
  3. Niektóre źródła (Smithsonian Institution) wymieniają rok 1894.
  4. ^ Patterson, J. (2009). Stuart Davis's painting and politics in the 1930s. The Burlington Magazine, 151465–468.
  5. ^ a b c d Stokes Sims, Lowery (1991). Stuart Davis American Painter. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. pp. 17, 18, 20, 24, 26. ISBN 978-0870996283.
  6. ^ Philip Cooper, Cubism. Ediz. Phaidon, Londra, 1995.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Cécile Whiting, Stuard Davis, Oxford Art Online
  8. Hills P. Stuart Davis — 1996. — С. 151. — ISBN 978-0-8109-3219-7

Please Disable Ddblocker

We are sorry, but it looks like you have an dblocker enabled.

Our only way to maintain this website is by serving a minimum ammount of ads

Please disable your adblocker in order to continue.

Dafato needs your help!

Dafato is a non-profit website that aims to record and present historical events without bias.

The continuous and uninterrupted operation of the site relies on donations from generous readers like you.

Your donation, no matter the size will help to continue providing articles to readers like you.

Will you consider making a donation today?