1892 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
1964 (New York City)
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abstraction, mod-real imagery
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New York Armory Show of 1913
San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915
|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|Born in Philadelphia in 1892, Stuart Davis is known by many art
historians as the American painter most influenced by Cubism. Art
historian Norman Geske described Davis' career as a "near classical
demonstration of the process by which American painting of the
twentieth century came of age." (40). Davis moved from
journalistic illustration to Social Realism, to Expressionism, to
Cubism, ultimately becoming one of America's leading abstractionists.
Strongly influenced by Fernand Leger and the New York Armory Show of
1912, he developed his own unique style of Cubism, which also
incorporated Realism. |
Along with Max Weber, he is credited
with being the importer of Cubism to the United States from France at a
time when the public was more interested in Social Realism and American
Scene painting with people and places that were recognizable.
his painting, he pursued a life-long quest of finding a logical set of
assumptions from which he could produce a modern picture, and the
results were strong, related patterns and compelling color
combinations. In addition to paintings, his body of work includes
drawings, collages, lithographs, gouaches, and murals.
Davis was born in Philadelphia to artistic parents. His mother was
sculptor Helen Stuart Foulke, and his father, Edward Wyatt Davis, was
art editor of the Philadelphia Press. Through his father,
he had early association with John Sloan and Robert Henri, with whom he
studied in New York City from 1910 to 1913. The Armory Show of
1912 dissuaded him from following the realist styles of Sloan and
Henri, but he maintained his artistic focus on aspects of the social
realism they espoused in that many of his subjects were places such as
run-down hotels or apartment interiors.
with Cubism, collage, and total abstraction, and eventually settled on
a style based on Cubism with much improvisation. In the late
1920s, he lived in Paris in Jan Matulka's studio close to other
modernists including Alexander Calder, Isamu Noguchi, and Morris
Kantor. Then he returned to New York City, in whose vicinity he
spent the remainder of his career. He had a New York City studio
and also a studio in Hoboken, New Jersey. From that time, his
paintings reflected American experience, especially his love of jazz
music, with the modernist styles he employed beginning with the Armory
Show of 1913.
In the 1930s, he taught at the Art Students League
in New York, and he also did murals for the WPA (Works Progress
Administration). In the 1940s, he taught at the New School for
Social Research. In 1964, he received the first commission by an
American artist to design a postage stamp, which was issued six months
after his death in that year.
His first exhibition was in 1927
and venues included the Phillips Gallery in Washington DC , and the
Whitney Museum in New York. In this exhibition, he introduced his
landmark "Eggbeater Series", various depictions of an eggbeater, a fan
and a glove, with each one increasingly abstract until only pure
A 1998 retrospective of his work was
organized by curators of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, and
its last venue was The National Museum of American Art in Washington
Docent archives, Phoenix Art Museum
Norman Geske and Karen Janovy, The American Painting Collection of the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|Note from Earl Davis, son of Stuart Davis. |
I am writing to ask you to correct an often quoted error as to his birth year as 1894. In fact, he was born Dec. 7, 1892.
might also wish to note his highly committed social engagement as one
of the founding members and Secretary of the American Artists'
Congress, as well as Editor of Art Front - both during the 1930's.
you have an interest in a more in-depth biographical perspective - he
was doing his greatest paintings for which he received the most renown
in the 1950-60's,
contemporaneous with the Abstract Expressionists - a younger group
which retrospectively receives quite a bit more of the limelight.
|Biography from Hollis Taggart Galleries (Artists, A-D):|
|Admired for his artistic independence, brilliant use of color, and wit, Stuart Davis is regarded as one of the finest interwar modernists. The son of artist parents who met as students at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, he found his place amid the currents of twentieth-century American art earlier than some of his peers. Among his first art-world mentors were the artists known as The Eight and, later, the Ashcan School. At the time of his son’s birth, Davis’s father, an art editor, employed some of these artists at the Philadelphia Press and the family connection endured over subsequent years.|
As a teenager, Davis left high school in New Jersey for New York City, where he received formal art training from 1910 to 1913 at the school founded by Robert Henri, artistic father of The Eight. Although Henri worked in a realist vein, he rejected academic idealism and urged his students to observe and sketch city life as experienced on streets and in music halls, taverns, and other locations. Davis lived in Newark during his art studies; in the dive bars he frequented, he developed an abiding passion for the technical precision and expressive spontaneity of jazz.
With his contribution of five watercolors, Davis was among the youngest participants in the seminal Armory Show (International Exhibition of Modern Art) in 1913, organized by a group of artists in order to introduce Americans to new developments in art across the Atlantic and at home. Excited by the formal innovations and bold use of color displayed by the European modernists, particularly Matisse, van Gogh, and Gauguin, Davis dedicated the next several years to becoming a modern artist.
By the early 1920s, Davis had left behind the representational realism of his early career. No matter how abstract his work became—and the degree of abstraction varied throughout his career—he always considered himself an observer of the world around him. In 1951, he expressed regret “that I have long been ‘type-cast’ as ‘Abstract’ because my interest in Abstractions is practically zero.”(1) Instead, he identified his paintings as “Color-Space Compositions,” in which areas of color define spatial relationships. Davis applied his formal concepts to subject matter ranging from still lifes, to landscapes, to commercial imagery and other aspects of urban life.
Just as a jazz musician riffs on snippets borrowed from popular music or explores all the permutations of a single phrase, so Davis drew from a personal well of reference points, remaking them into new images. In 1942 he remarked in his notebook: “I can work from Nature, from old sketches and paintings of my own, from photographs, and from other works of art. In each case the process consists of transposition of the forms of the subject into a coherent, objective color-space continuum, which evokes a direct sensate response to structure.”(2)
During Davis’s own lifetime, his work was the subject of retrospectives at The Museum of Modern Art, New York (1945) and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (1957), and included in a wide variety of group exhibitions focusing on modern or abstract art. Sometimes identified as a forerunner of the next generation’s Pop artists, Davis shared their engagement with American mass culture, if not their tendency to treat fragments of everyday life to iconic status. Instead Davis turned the stuff—objects, imagery, and language—of modernity into grace notes within his vivid impressions of urban experience. Keenly aware of his position as both participant in and chronicler of his cultural moment, he noted, “An artist who has traveled on a steam train, driven an automobile, or flown in an airplane doesn’t feel the same way about form and space as one who has not.”(3)
1. Artist statement originally published in 40 American Painters, 1940–1950, catalogue of an exhibition at the University Gallery, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, 1951, reprinted in Stuart Davis, ed. Diane Kelder (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1971), 11.
2. Davis Papers, Reel 6, February 11, 1942, cited in Karen Wilkin, Stuart Davis (New York: Abbeville Press, 1987).
3. Stuart Davis, “Is There a Revolution in the Arts?” originally published in Bulletin of America’s Town Meeting of the Air, V, no. 19 (February 1940), reprinted in Stuart Davis, ed. Diane Kelder (New York: Praeger Publishers, Inc., 1971), 122.
|Biography from The Columbus Museum of Art, Georgia:|
|Stuart Davis was one of the most important American painters of the
first half of the twentieth century. He was not only prominent as
a painter of American populist idealism, but his work distilled the
vitality of modern life with a keen sense of form and improvisational
Davis was born in 1892 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, of parents who
had both studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. His
mother, Helen Stuart Foulke Davis, was a sculptor and exhibited her
work in Philadelphia and New York. Edward Davis, the artist's father,
was the art editor for the Philadelphia Press, where he employed his friends John Sloan, William Glackens, George Luks and Edward Shinn as illustrators.
When Davis was nine years old, his family moved just outside New York
City to East Orange, New Jersey, where his father took a position at
the Newark Evening News. Stuart's early acquaintance with
his parents' noteworthy artist friends, combined with their support and
commitment to his artistic career, gave him a unique perspective that
allowed him to develop an extraordinary place within the bohemian
artistic world of the early twentieth century.
Stuart Davis was an artistic prodigy. He began his professional
career as a realist painter at the age of seventeen under the tutelage
of Robert Henri, the leader and spokesperson for the Ashcan
School. Art historian Barbara Rose notes that Henri taught his
students to paint a "… down-to-earth realism based on the objectivity
of Dutch genre, the somber palette of Spanish tonal painting, Manet's
broad painterliness… [and the] slashing brushstroke and vivid
highlights of the Munich School … [employing a] facile bravura and
surface glitter." (1)
This kind of realism quite obviously was removed from the traditional
canons set forth by Thomas Eakins and William Merritt Chase a
generation earlier. As Rose points out, Henri became more
indebted to a kind of journalistic illustration than to traditional
fine art. As Davis' mentor, Henri made certain that his protégé
had exhibition opportunities in New York, and in 1910, Davis' work was
included in the "Exhibition of Independent Artists."
It was during his study with Henri that Davis met and befriended Henry
Glintenkamp, with whom he rented studio space in Hoboken, New Jersey,
two years later.
In 1913, an exhibition commonly called the Armory Show (actually
entitled the "International Exhibition of Modern Art,” which was held
at the Sixty-ninth Regiment Armory) opened in New York. Organized
by the Association of American Painters and Sculptors (AAPS), the
Armory Show featured over 1200 works by leading American and European
artists. Because the exhibition energized a whole generation of
artists, including Stuart Davis, it is widely recognized to represent a
turning point in the history of American art. While the Domestic
Committee of the AAPS invited many established American artists to
participate in the exhibition, younger artists, like Davis, submitted
work for approval. (2)
Five of his watercolors were accepted for inclusion. Davis'
exposure to work by leading modern and contemporary artists of the
world stimulated him to broaden his thinking about art and embrace a
unique "modernist" vision. As Patricia Hills has noted, "From the
1920s until his death …he developed a personal art theory… scorning
academic banality, sentimentality and bourgeois sensibilities." (3)
Although he recognized that museums, collectors and the general public
accepted realism more freely than the new, modern art during this
period, Davis was convinced that his move toward abstraction was
correct. Like his contemporaries, he viewed modernism as a
democratic expression that was more broadly accessible to "the people"
than the academic art of the previous generation, whose formulaic
reconstructions of classical motifs appealed primarily to the elite.
In the 1930s, Davis spent time painting in Gloucester, Massachusetts,
and teaching at the Art Students League. His work was exhibited
in New York at the Downtown Gallery and was featured in the Museum of
Modern Art and the Whitney Biennial. He painted easel paintings as well
as a number of large murals in Manhattan and Brooklyn for the WPA
Federal Arts Project. (4)
Davis was also a professional illustrator for the progressive magazine, The Masses,
and became a socialist. Living the bohemian lifestyle in
Greenwich Village and joining the radical John Reed Club, Davis became
the editor of Art Front, the publication of the Artists Union, and chaired the American Artists Congress.
Throughout his life, Davis was an articulate and outspoken art
theorist: he wrote over ten thousand manuscript pages. (5) Like his
European counterpart, Piet Mondrian, Davis was excited and inspired by
the energy of jazz music. As Gail Levin notes, "Rhythm is created
[in Davis' paintings] by the variety of words and shapes overlapping in
transparent layers. This is the rhythm of the city [New York]
where Davis first enjoyed the jazz music that he loved. Jazz is
reflected in Davis' painting" (6)
His paintings effectively form the visual equivalent to the
spirit of improvisation embodied in jazz. They are composed of
energetically arranged geometric elements interspersed with simplified
representational forms, structured into a hard-edged, cubistic collage.
1. Barbara Rose, American Painting, the Twentieth Century (New
York: Rizzoli International Publications, 1969), 23. Also, see Patricia
Hills, Stuart Davis (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1996), 10.
Hills' research in the archival records of the East Orange, New Jersey,
High School revealed that for many years Davis had incorrectly listed
his date of birth as1894 instead of the actual date of 1892. For more
current information, see Lawrence Salander, Stuart Davis: Major Late Paintings (New York: Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, 2002);
2. Milton W. Brown, The Story of the Armory Show (New York: The Joseph Hirshhorn Foundation and H. Wolfe, 1963), 66.
3. Hills, 9.
4. Michael David Zellman American Art Analog, Vol. III (New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986), 902.
5. Lewis Kachur, "The Language of Stuart Davis: Writing/Drawing,” Karen Wilkin and Lewis Kachur, The Drawings of Stuart Davis: The Amazing Continuity (New York: The American Federation of Arts and Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1992), 30.
6. Gail Levin, The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection of Twentieth Century American Painting (London: Sotheby's Publications by Philip Wilson Publishers, Ltd., 1987), 82.
staff, Columbus Museum
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