Stuart Davis

born Philadelphia, PA 1892-died New York City 1964
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Stuart Davis seated in front of Summer Landscape, © Peter A. Juley & Son Collection, Smithsonian American Art Museum J0001440
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
New York, New York, United States
Active in
  • Gloucester, Massachusetts, United States

Pioneer modernist painter who exhibited at the 1913 New York Armory Show. Davis believed that "a subject had its emotional reality," which could be gleaned through an awareness of geometric planes and spatial relationships. Davis spent a year exploring the same subject in his famous Eggbeaters series (1927–28).

Joan Stahl American Artists in Photographic Portraits from the Peter A. Juley & Son Collection (Washington, D.C. and Mineola, New York: National Museum of American Art and Dover Publications, Inc., 1995)

Artist Biography

Stuart Davis's anti-establishment view of life was informed by that of his parents, who both trained at The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. His family and their bohemian circle of friends were instrumental in forming his progressive social views. An intense interest in "Americanness"—understood in terms of his Philadelphia background as well as a commercial and working-class present—formed a part of these views. Perhaps surprising to us, in an article in The Soil (an early avant-garde magazine) Davis listed an appreciation of colonial architecture as a proper subject for "young, robust . . . daring" American art, a viewpoint Davis recalled enthusiastically at the end of his life. Davis first went to Gloucester in 1915 with other artists working for the radical magazine The Masses, and ill subsequent years he spent most summers there. He referred to himself as an "addict of the New England coast," but his modernist eye made him look at typical New England subjects with a combination of humor and irony. Masts of old fishing schooners, for example, are seen among fish processing plants, gas pumps, and commercial signs. Despite critics' applause, steady exhibitions, and early patronage from Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, Davis had trouble selling his work and only began to make a comfortable living in the 1950s. Nevertheless, his continually evolving approach to both urban and rural subjects, ant his active pursuit of artists' rights, kept him at the forefront of the modernist movement.

Virginia M. Mecklenburg Modern American Realism: The Sara Roby Foundation Collection (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press for the National Museum of American Art, 1987)


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Graphic Masters II: Highlights from the Smithsonian American Art Museum
June 18, 2009January 10, 2010
Graphic Masters II: Highlights from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the second in a series of special installations, celebrates the extraordinary variety and accomplishment of American artists' works on paper.

Related Books

Crosscurrents: Modern Art from the Sam Rose and Julie Walters Collection
In eighty-eight striking paintings and sculptures, Crosscurrents captures modernism as it moved from early abstractions by O’Keeffe, to Picasso and Pollock in midcentury, to pop riffs on contemporary culture by Roy Lichtenstein, Wayne Thiebaud, and Tom Wesselmann—all illustrating the complexity and energy of a distinctly American modernism.
Graphic Masters: Highlights from the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Graphic Masters celebrates the extraordinary variety and accomplishment of American artists’ works on paper. Exceptional watercolors, pastels, and drawings from the 1860s through the 1990s reveal the central importance of works on paper for American artists, both as studies for creations in other media and as finished works of art. Traditionally a more intimate form of expression than painting or sculpture, drawings often reveal greater spontaneity and experimentation. Even as works on paper become larger and more finished, competing in scale with easel paintings, they retain a sense of the artist’s hand, the immediacy of a thought made visible.