Stuart Davis (1892-1964)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more An American Place: The Barney A. Ebsworth Collection
Stuart Davis (1892-1964)

Still Life in the Street

Stuart Davis (1892-1964)
Still Life in the Street
signed 'Stuart Davis' (lower right)
oil on canvas
10 1/8 x 12 1/8 in. (25.7 x 30.8 cm.)
Painted 1941.
The artist.
[With]The Downtown Gallery, New York.
John Hammond Jr., New York, acquired from the above, 1943.
Jemison Hammond, New York, acquired from the above.
Dr. and Mrs. Irving Burton, Huntington Woods, Michigan, acquired from the above, 1968.
Sotheby Parke-Bernet, New York, 18 October 1972, lot 54, sold by the above.
Acquired by the late owner from the above.
R.M. Coates, "The Art Galleries: Davis, Hartley and the River Seine," New Yorker, vol. 18, no. 52, February 13, 1942, p. 58.
A. Boyajian, M. Rutkowski, Stuart Davis: A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. III, New Haven, Connecticut, 2007, p. 329, no. 1639, illustrated.
B. Ebsworth, A World of Possibility: An Autobiography, Hunts Point, Washington, 2012, p. 134.
Washington, D.C., Philips Memorial Gallery, Cross Section Number One of a Series of Specially Invited American Paintings & Watercolors, March 15-31, 1942.
New York, The Downtown Gallery, Stuart Davis: Selected Paintings, February 2-27, 1943, no. 12.
Brooklyn, New York, The Brooklyn Museum; Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University, Fogg Art Museum, Stuart Davis: Art and Theory, January 21-May 28, 1978, pp. 188, 190, no. 109, illustrated (as French Landscape).
St. Louis, Missouri, St. Louis Art Museum; Honolulu, Hawaii, Honolulu Academy of Arts; Boston, Massachusetts, Museum of Fine Arts, The Ebsworth Collection: American Modernism 1911-1947, November 20, 1987-June 5, 1988, pp. 11, 72-73, 201, no. 14, illustrated.
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art; Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Twentieth-Century American Art: The Ebsworth Collection, March 5-November 12, 2000, pp. 75-77, 280, no. 11, illustrated.
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Lot Essay

Informed by his physical surroundings and often the aural harmonies of Jazz, Stuart Davis’s work earned him the title the “Ace of American Modernism” and his powerful visual symphonies, such as Still Life in the Street, are enduring icons of what it meant to be an American artist in the first half of the twentieth century. First inspired by Davis’s seminal trip to Paris in 1928-1929, yet executed over a decade later in 1941, the present work embodies “The Amazing Continuity” found between the artist’s early works and his later, more abstracted approach. With an intriguing juxtaposition of still-life elements within a cityscape peppered with bold signage, in Still Life in the Street, Davis utilizes vibrant color to create a dynamic composition with Cubist influences and proto-Pop style.

Like many American artists of his era, Davis set off for Paris in the late 1920s to experience the cultivation of new ideas in the capital of the modern art world. Davis later reminisced, “I had the feeling that this was the best place in the world for an artist to live and work; and at the time it was… Paris was old fashioned, but modern as well. That was the wonderful part of it… There was a timelessness about the place that was conducive to the kind of contemplation essential to art” (S. Davis, quoted in J.J. Sweeney. Stuart Davis, New York, 1945, pp. 18-19). During this trip, he made drawings in his sketchbook of a Paris street, a beer mug in a café and seltzer and water bottles, which he combined into the celebrated 1928 oil Rue Lipp (Private Collection). Named not for an actual street but rather a popular watering hole Brasserie Lipp, the work employs a type of synthetic cubism to represent building facades as flattened plans of color, with superimposed lines providing the suggestion of architectural detail. In the foreground, the still life appears larger-than-life and imbedded with visual puns; for example, the top hat to be seen within a half-full beer stein is emphasized with the inscription “Biere Hatt.” Lewis Kachur summarizes, “Thus we have a café-sitter’s view of the stage-set space of the street and its passing spectacle” (L. Kachur, Stuart Davis: An American in Paris, exh. cat., New York, 1987, p. 9).

In the early 1940s, Davis began to revisit and re-approach compositions from the 1920s and early 30s with a greater emphasis on strong color and overall pattern. Still Life in the Street epitomizes the works from this period, simplifying and intensifying the elements of Rue Lipp into a more abstracted vision of the scene. Realism is left behind with the lively pinks, greens, blues and oranges vibrating with energy. Strong lines of pure white and black add a layer of decoration over the geometric forms, while the lettering on the buildings and bottle root the work in everyday popular culture. The New Yorker critic praised upon the work’s exhibition in 1943, “His great strength, I believe, lies in such pieces as his ‘Gloucester Harbor,’ ‘New York Waterfront,’ and ‘Still Life in the Street,’ in all of which the design is impeccable, the color sure, and each element of the composition carries just the weight of meaning planned for it, with precision and complete authority.” (R.M. Coates, “The Art Galleries; Davis, Hartley, and the River Seine,” New Yorker, February 13, 1943, p. 58)

Davis would again revisit the Still Life in the Street composition at the end of his career with The Paris Bit (1959, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York). Further reducing and abstracting the scene into a tricolor palette of red, white and blue, this final iteration also exaggerates the use of words as visual forms. Boldly positioning phrases in various typefaces and angles throughout all parts of the scene, Davis even integrates his upside-down signature into the overall spatial arrangement and anticipates the wordplay of many post-War American artists. As fully manifested in the transformation of Rue Lipp to Still Life in the Street to The Paris Bit, Harry Cooper writes of Davis’s modern recursive series, “All the elements of the earlier painting are present—transferred in loving detail… and some… have even been strengthened. And yet none of them are there. Instead of being drawn to the work of deciphering, we are overcome by a colorful blaze of shape and pattern, very much on the surface” (H. Cooper, “Unfinished Business: Davis and the Dialect-X of Recursion,” in B. Haskell, Stuart Davis: In Full Swing, exh. cat., New York, 2016, p. 45).

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