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    Sale 1665

    Important American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture

    25 May 2006, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 38

    Stuart Davis (1894-1964)

    Color Sketch for WNYC Mural

    Price Realised  


    Stuart Davis (1894-1964)
    Color Sketch for WNYC Mural
    signed 'Stuart Davis' (lower right)
    gouache on paperboard
    13¼ x 17½ in. (33.7 x 44.5 cm.)
    Executed in 1938.

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    The present work is a complete study for the oil painting Mural for Studio B, WNYC, Municipal Broadcasting Company (1939, The City of New York, currently on extended loan at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) (fig. 1) that Davis painted through the Mural Division of the Works Progress Administration. While the colors in the two works differ slightly, the compositions are nearly identical.

    Three of Davis' major motifs of the 1930s converge in the works: Jazz, Gloucester, Massachusetts and electrical symbols. Davis had extensively explored and developed these disparate themes in drawings throughout the decade and in the mural and study he combines them in a harmonious composition of color and shape. The form of the yellow saxophone and slanted angles of the bright green electric reed and brown clarinet represent Davis' beloved music genre and give the work a dynamic sense of movement; the centrally located gray linear rigging of a Gloucester schooner, beyond which is a small blue patch of sea, anchors the work to the beige background; and the electrical symbols to the right of the composition simultaneously create balance and motion. The elements are visually linked, yet each is encased in its own plane and color scheme, making the mural and study some of Davis' most abstract and economical works of the decade.

    The reconciliation of form, but not of content, conveys the artist's belief that radio transmission manifested the "essence of abstraction." In his notes for the mural, Davis wrote of the diverse iconography as "a series of formal relations which are identified with musical instruments, radio antenna, ether waves, operator's panel, electrical symbols, etc. These various elements are presented in an imaginative rather than a factual relationship. It had been my intention to place these various elements into juxtaposition with each other in a way which one often does in remembering a scene or event and the incidentals relating to it. In remembering a scene, for example, certain aspects of it are exaggerated and others are suppressed. The scene is rearranged and recomposed according to the importance and meaning which the different elements have on the spectator." (as quoted in J.R. Lane, Stuart Davis: Art and Art Theory, New York, 1978, pp. 120-21)

    This painting will be included in Ani Boyajian's and Mark Rutkoski's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's works.


    The artist.
    Estate of the artist.
    (With) Salander-O'Reilly Gallery, Inc., New York.
    Private collection, New Jersey, 1988.


    B. Urdang, Stuart Davis: Murals: An Exhibition of Related Studies 1932-1957, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1976, no. 8, illustrated (as Study for a Mural).
    J.R. Lane, Stuart Davis: Art and Art Theory, New York, 1978, p. 121, no. 42, illustrated (as Study for Municipal Broadcasting Company WNYC Studio B Mural).


    New York, Zabriskie Gallery, Stuart Davis: Murals: An Exhibition of Related Studies 1932-1957, January 27-February 14, 1976, no. 8 (as Study for a Mural).
    New York, The Brooklyn Museum, and elsewhere, Stuart Davis: Art and Art Theory, January 21-March 19, 1978, no. 42 (as Study for Municipal Broadcasting Company WNYC Studio B Mural).
    New York, Marilyn Pearl Gallery, Looking at the WPA: Mural Sketches and Other Works from the 1930's, May 19-June 20, 1987 (as Study for WNYC Mural).