Stuart Davis (American, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1892–1964 New York)

Oil on canvas
52 x 40 in. (132.1 x 101.6 cm)
Credit Line:
George A. Hearn Fund, 1953
Accession Number:
Rights and Reproduction:
© Estate of Stuart Davis/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
  • Description

    Stuart Davis is considered a pioneer American modernist for his contributions to abstract painting. His interest in art began at home, where his father was an art editor at various newspapers and his mother a sculptor. In 1909, he left high school to study with painter Robert Henri in New York. In 1913, five of his watercolors were shown in the famous "International Exhibition of Modern Art" (known as the Armory Show) in New York. For Davis, who was then nineteen years old, this exposure to Post-Impressionism, Cubism, and Futurism revealed exciting new visual possibilities for his own works that would serve to guide and inspire him throughout the next four decades. By the end of the 1920s, he had formed his signature style, an American brand of Cubism that depicted objects and landscapes as overlapping geometric shapes of solid colors. Although the subjects of his paintings were often masked by the syncopations of line, color, and shape, he always asserted that they were based on an observed reality.

    In "Semé," a later work in his prolific production, we see Davis at the peak of his creative powers. The bright, articulated forms that seem to be numbers, letters, and symbols resembling musical notation summarize his principal interests, which also provided seminal inspiration for much of American art—advertising and jazz. The artist noted in an interview that semé, the French word of the title, connotes lots of things strewn about. Here, a lively jumble of variously sized and colored elements collide and overlap within the proscribed space. Vivid greens and blues create electrically charged visual vibrations against the contrasting red and oranges. The word ANY is meant to indicate the equality of all the elements in the picture, while in the lower left is a wonderfully onomatopoeic fusion of the two words "eye" and "ideas": Eydeas.

    Davis was a tireless propagandizer for abstract art, which continued to face strong resistance until well after the Second World War. In doing so, he paved the way for the acceptance that Abstract Expressionists were able to attain in the 1950s.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Signature: Signed (upper right): Stuart Davis

  • Exhibition History

    New York: Salander-O'Reilly Galleries, Inc. April 6- May 11, 2002. ¦Stuart Davis: Major Late Paintings, 1945-1964¦.

    Washington, DC: National Museum of American Art, May 22 - September 7, 1998. ¦Stuart Davis Retrospective¦

    Venice: Peggy Guggenheim Collection, June 3 - September 28, 1997.

    New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, November 18, 1991 - February 16, 1992. San Francisco, California: Museum of Modern Art, March 24 - June 7, 1992.

    Seattle, Washington: Seattle Art Museum, November 28, 1970 - May 2, 1971.

    New York: B. Altman, December 4 - 10, 1969.

    New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1965. ¦Three Centuries of American Painting¦.

    Washington, DC: The White House, June 1965.

    Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, September 30 - November 8, 1964.

    New York: Downtown Gallery, May 10 - June 4, 1960.

    American Academy of Arts & Letters, May 23 - June 24, 1956.

    Fort Worth, Texas: Fort Worth Art Association, Inaugural Exhibition, 1954. Cat. no. 19 (ill.).

    New York: Downtown Gallery, March 1 - 31, 1954.

  • References

    Wright, Frederick. Stuart Davis in ART DIGEST, vol. 27, 1953 (May 15), p. 13 (ill.), p. 23 (discussed).

    Goossen, E.C. Stuart Davis, New York, 1959, no. 60 (ill. 53.90).

    Blesh, Rudi. Stuart Davis, New York [London], 1960, pl. G (color ill. 53.90).

    Metropolitan Museum of Art. American Painting in the Twentieth Century, by Henry Geldzahler (1965), p. 146 f. (ill., discusssed), p. 212 (short biography of the artist), p. 228 (bibliography on the artist).

    Elliott, James. Premiere, in LOS ANGELES COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART BULLETIN, vol. XIV , no. 3, 1962, p. 7 (ill.), p. 9 (mentioned).

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History