BORN IN PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA 1892
DIED IN NEW YORK, NEW YORK 1964
Stuart Davis is one of the preeminent figures of the American Modernist movement. Over the course of his prolific career, which spanned the early 20th century through the post-war era, Davis developed a distinct visual language that fused Cubism and high-art with his own pioneering motifs of consumerism and the syncopated rhythms of jazz.
Davis began his artistic education at a young age – his mother, Helen Stuart Foulke, was a distinguished sculptor and his father, Edward Wyatt Davis, was the art editor of the Philadelphia Press. By 1909, Davis began his studies in New York with Robert Henri, leader of the Ashcan School, quickly becoming a star pupil. Under Henri’s tutelage, Davis came to appreciate a new way of artmaking that captured the zeitgeist of the everyday modern American experience. He also developed his technical prowess as a draftsman, which led to his understanding of drawing as an integral facet to the creative process.
At the age of 21, Davis was invited to exhibit in the first exhibition of European avant-garde art in America, the 1913 Armory Show, alongside Marcel Duchamp, Fernand Léger, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, as well as Marsden Hartley, Edward Hopper, Charles Sheeler, John Sloan and Joseph Stella. This moment marked a turning point in Davis’s career as he began to adapt a Cubist vocabulary to establish a distinctly American vernacular – a preoccupation that was further nurtured during his extended stay in Paris between 1928-29. While abroad, Davis harnessed an authentic and singular variant of Cubism that focused on redefining structure, form and the way in which line or color delineate space.
In the 1930s, Davis became increasingly compelled to tackle contemporary political and social issues. Davis’s activism led him to become Editor in Chief of the leftist publication Art Front, Chairman of the John Reed Club targeted towards Marxist writers, artists and intellectuals, as well as a muralist for the the Federal Art Project of the WPA. It is during this period that Davis was awarded numerous mural commissions including those for Radio City Music Hall, the New York World’s Fair and the Williamsburg Housing Project. Deeply committed to capturing the life of the times, Davis utilized these public platforms to advance his unwavering impulse to depict what he viewed as the quintessential American scene.
By 1950, Davis entered a new period of creativity. Revisiting themes of popular culture with which he engaged for many years, Davis realized some of his most complex, seminal paintings, such as The Mellow Pad (1945-51, Brooklyn Museum), Little Giant Still Life (1950, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York) and Fin (1962-64, Whitney Museum of American Art). In 1952 and 1954, Davis represented the United States at the Venice Biennale and received the Guggenheim International Award in 1958 and 1960. Davis’s legacy became cemented by the enduring influence of his work on the subsequent generation of artists including Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, David Hockney and Donald Judd.
Recent significant exhibitions include the 2016 critically acclaimed Stuart Davis: In Full Swing, which opened at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, NY, and traveled to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; de Young Museum, San Francisco, CA and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR. Davis’s work has been exhibited worldwide and is held in the permanent collection of prominent institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY; Brooklyn Museum, New York, NY; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; San Francisco Museum of Art, CA; Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA; Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid; among many others.
Image: Stuart Davis, Untitled (Black and White Variation on "Pochade"), 1956-58, casein on canvas, 45 x 56 inches, 114.3 x 142.2 cm. © Estate of Stuart Davis/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.