Stuart Davis

American, 1894 - 1964
Fine Art as an Investment: Stuart Davis (1892-1964)by Lisa Bush HankinA leading member of the first generation of artists who put a distinctly American spin on the modernist ideas then percolating in Europe, Stuart Davis (1892-1964) is celebrated for his lively and colorful canvases that incorporate imagery from the American popular culture of his day. Davis is seen as a seminal figure in early modernism, and his works are highly sought after by both museums and collectors. As a result, his major paintings do not appear on the market very frequently, and -as back-to-back multimillion dollar sales at Sotheby's and Christie's in the fall of 2005 demonstrate -they bring considerable sums when they do.1 Davis' prices have climbed steadily over the past twenty years, with a current record auction price of four and a half million dollars (Fig. 1).Born in Philadelphia, Davis was the son of professional artists (a sculptor and the art director for the Philadelphia Press), who relocated to northern New Jersey, outside New York City, when Davis was nine. Davis benefited early in his career from the guidance of family friends Robert Henri (1865-1929) and John Sloan (1871-1951), whose early artistic support enabled the young man to participate in prominent exhibitions including the groundbreaking 1913 Armory Show, an event that profoundly affected the direction his art would take. Though Davis' early works reflect the influence of the Ashcan school (Fig. 2), he soon chose to depart from representing his subjects in an illusionistic manner, dispensing with 3-dimensional form in favor of using line, color, and pattern to capture the energy and variety of contemporary American life (Figs. 3-5). While Davis' crisp cutout-like forms owe much to the influence of French master Henri Matisse, his enthusiastic embrace of the signs, symbols and feel of America's burgeoning commercial culture were distinctively his own.Davis drew his inspiration from the everyday world around him, integrating elements of still life, figuration, and landscape in his trademark brand of abstracted realism. Often incorporating scenery from in and around Gloucester, Massachusetts (where he spent many summers), New York, and Paris, Davis' work was also informed by music (particularly jazz), advertising, roadside architecture, car culture, and consumer packaging, to name but a few of the many influences that contribute to the vitality of his work. Happily for collectors, Davis enjoyed a long and productive career (Fig. 4), creating prints, drawings, and watercolors in addition to his major oil paintings and mural commissions. Although Davis' major pictures command seven-figure prices, his prints, drawings, mural studies and smaller paintings can be had for far less. Certain examples of his color prints begin at about a thousand dollars, with prices for other prints, drawings, and lithographs climbing from there. This variety of mediums and range of prices enable even enthusiasts on a tight budget to participate in collecting the work of this highly influential and immensely appealing artist. Scholars Mark Rutkowski and Ani Boyajian have recently completed Stuart Davis: A Catalogue Raisonne, to be released by Yale University Press this fall. Comprised of three volumes that document some 1,750 of Davis' works, the catalogue (produced in conjunction with New York's Salander-O'Reilly Galleries) contains essays by scholars William Agee and Karen Wilkin as well as an exhaustive chronology of the artist's life. With its detailed documentation and inclusion of 600 works that have never before been illustrated, this volume will undoubtedly serve as an important resource for collectors interested in the artist's work for many years to come.Article appeared in the Antiques and Fine Art Summer/Autumn 2007 issue,  Stuart Davis paintings remain popular today. 
Stuart Davis was born December 7, 1894 in Philadelphia, PA. His mother, Helen Stuart Foulke (a sculptress), and his father, Edward Wyatt Davis (art editor of the Philadelphia Press), introduced him to the art world at an early age. Through his father he met Robert Henri, with whom he studied at the New York School of Art from 1910 to 1913. In 1918, he served as a map maker with special commission under the Army Intelligence Department preparing materials for the peace conference.

In the 1930's, Davis taught at the Art Students League in New York City. During this time, he also did easel paintings and several major murals for the WPA Federal Arts Project; he edited the Artists Union Art Front publication; and chaired the American Artist's Congress, from which he resigned in 1940. During the 1940's, he taught at the New School for Social Research, New York. In 1938, Davis married Roselle Springer and on April 17, 1952, they had a son, George Earl Davis.

Davis' work strived to portray the tempo of American life, but with his subject matter being secondary to color and compositional concerns. As a result, his distributive art bridges the gap between early modernism and abstract expressionism and pop art.

In 1964, Davis became the first major artist commissioned by the United States Post Office to design a commemorative postage stamp. The stamp was issued in December of that year, six months after his death on June 24th. His work is located in over twenty-five public collections, including the Carnegie Institute, the Brooklyn Museum, the Philadelphia Museum, the Phillips Collection, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Whitney Museum.

Biography courtesy of The Caldwell Gallery,
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