The present work is one of three oil studies that Stuart Davis began in 1957 for the related large-scale masterwork, Pochade (Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum of Art, Madrid, Spain), which the artist painted from 1956 to 1958. The amount of time that Davis spent on the painting and studies makes the title, which means "rapid sketch" in French, seem ironic, though as with many of the artist's works, the meaning of the title is extraneous as is the meaning of the words that he incorporates into his compositions. He wrote, "As to the title, I select words or phrases [and] I apply them to a painting for purposes of identification when they seem appropriate in sound, not for any descriptive reason." ("Something on the Eight Ball," transcribed in Stuart Davis: Major Late Paintings, New York, 2002, p. 25)
Davis completed the underdrawing for Pochade in June 28, 1956, writing, "The visualization of Drawing on a large scale is the way to small scale when desired." (quoted in A. Boyajian and M. Rutkoski, eds., Stuart Davis: A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 3, New Haven, Connecticut, 2007, p. 434) Indeed, the following year he began work on Study for "Pochade" #1, Study for "Pochade" #2 (lot 33 in this sale) and Study for "Pochade" #3 (Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin). All three studies were begun after Davis had commenced work on the large scale Pochade, and were finished after its completion on April 23, 1958. Working on the four paintings concurrently would have allowed Davis to explore multiple facets of the composition and supports his assertion that, "Awareness includes the sense of innate power to accept or reject by an act of will among the diverse elements of subject matter which are the constant identity of awareness. Such an act of choice constitutes the direction of Reality and Truth in Art. It is the continuity of Free Choice as a right and obligation, in identification with the color-space idiom of painting, that gives art its unique shape and meaning." ("Something on the Eight Ball," transcribed in Stuart Davis: Major Late Paintings, p. 24)
While each of the three studies depict a reductive form of the finished composition, the present work, started December 12, 1957 and completed in June 1958, bears the closest compositional resemblance to the large-scale oil. In Pochade, Davis replaces the blue and black border of Study for "Pochade" #1, with a single green outer band, on which he signs his name in uppercase letters rather than script. Even as he has increased the complexity of the large scale work, embellishing the black form and adding words and symbols, the basic design of the two paintings is exceedingly similar.
Davis paints with characteristically thick brushstrokes and a reduced palette in Study for "Pochade" #1, using only four pigments: red, white, black and blue. He creates clearly delineated, bold color-shapes and carefully balances and overlays them to establish a variety of spatial relationships, creating a sense of recession, mass and depth in the work. An enormous tension emerges out of the interlocking planes pushing and pulling against one another. All lettering and words have been eliminated with the exception of the artist's large black script signature, which has now become an important element in the total design, and one that appears in all three studies. The resulting composition seems alternately complex and quite simple; it is a visually arresting "color-space event" that supersedes any anecdotal or literal references.
According to Ani Boyajian and Mark Rutkoski, this work is recorded in The Downtown Gallery's stock list and purchase slip as no. 101, with the title Study for Pochade #1 and the date 1958.