STUART DAVIS (1892-1964)
STUART DAVIS (1892-1964)
STUART DAVIS (1892-1964)
2 More
Property from a Private American Collection
STUART DAVIS (1892-1964)


STUART DAVIS (1892-1964)
signed 'Stuart Davis' (upper right)—signed again, dated '1959' and inscribed with title (on the reverse)
oil on canvasboard
20 x 16 in. (40.6 x 30.5 cm.)
Painted in 1959.
The artist.
Mrs. I.A.L. Diamond, Beverly Hills, California, acquired from the above, 1959.
Sotheby's, New York, 29 November 2006, lot 25, sold by the above.
Michael Altman Fine Art & Advisory Services, LLC, New York, acquired from the above.
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
A. Boyajian, M. Rutkowski, Stuart Davis: A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. III, New Haven, Connecticut, 2007, p. 441, no. 1716, illustrated.
Los Angeles, California, Otis Art Institute of Los Angeles County, Hollywood Collects, April 5-May 15, 1970, n.p., illustrated.

Brought to you by

Tylee Abbott
Tylee Abbott Vice President, Head of American Art

Lot Essay

In the later years of his career, Stuart Davis revisited his own compositions from the 1920s and early 30s to transform them into entirely new creations through an emphasis on strong color and overall pattern. Based on an original composition from 1922 and executed decades later in the 1950s, After Study embodies this “Amazing Continuity” found between the artist’s early works and his later, boldly abstracted approach.

The composition of the present work traces back to Davis’ 1922 oil painting Composition with Any (Estate of the Artist), which was an early cubist still-life type arrangement. Davis revisited that painting in 1951-52 to add the word ‘any’ to the original painting. Then, in 1955 he flipped the composition upside down—abstracting the composition further via reorientation—and began the underdrawing for the present work. While he would not paint on the present canvas until 1958-59, he recorded in his notes that this work’s underdrawing was consulted to create Study for Ready-to-Wear (1955, Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York). The schema was also adapted that year into the major oil paintings Ready-to-Wear (1955, Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois) and Cliché (1955, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York). Therefore, the present work After Study was indeed executed both “after” and as a “study” for the large-scale oil paintings in this series.

Lowery Stokes Sims describes of Ready-to-Wear, “The pristine handling of the colors and the sedate facture resulted in comparatively flat, cutout shapes that, nonetheless, assert their distinct characters within the whole.” (Stuart Davis: American Painter, New York, 1991, p. 287) While this effective arrangement of forms remains almost identical across the 1950s iterations, Davis manipulates his color scheme across the series. The pale pink and gray hues of the initial gouache become a patriotic red, white and blue schema in Ready-to-Wear and then a juxtaposition of complementary red and green in the present work.

Yet, throughout all the palette iterations, but most obviously against the all-over orange background of Cliché, bold black and/or white lines feature prominently. William C. Agee posits, “The intensity, and density, of Davis’s use of rich blacks and whites can also be interpreted as a rejoinder directed at the black-and-white paintings of Pollock, de Kooning, Kline, and Motherwell, which accounted for much of the best of Abstract Expressionist painting. For all these reasons, Ready to Wear of 1955, for example, seems perfectly at home installed among the Art Institute of Chicago’s Abstract Expressionist paintings.” (“Stuart Davis in the 1960s: ‘The Amazing Continuity,’” Stuart Davis: American Painter, New York, 1991, p. 84)

After Study and its related works also relate to trends in post-War American painting, and draw on pre-War European Modernists like Picasso and Braque, through their play with lettering. Davis once explained, “Physically words are also shapes…[they are] a form, an analogue, of physical architecture…We see words everywhere in modern life; we’re bombarded by them.” (as quoted in Stuart Davis: In Full Swing, exhibition catalogue, New York, 2016, p. 17) Indeed, Davis began the reimagination of this composition in the 1950s by adding the word ‘any’ to his original canvas. This word was carried over to his initial 1955 gouache, but becomes just ‘X’ in Ready-to-Wear and ‘XRD’ (perhaps meaning crossroad) in Cliché. In After Study these references are instead replaced with a particularly bold version of the artist’s signature—placed in the wrong orientation on the canvas to draw even further attention to the letters as shapes, as opposed to their meaning.

Through this innovative experimentation with abstraction through reorientation, the spatial and emotive effects of different color schema, and the power of words as shapes, After Study demonstrates why Stuart Davis is among the most self-referential yet endlessly creative artists of the twentieth century.

More from Modern American Art

View All
View All