Stuart Davis (1892-1964)
Property from a Private Collection of American Modernism
Stuart Davis (1892-1964)

Synthetic Souvenir

Stuart Davis (1892-1964)
Synthetic Souvenir
signed 'Stuart Davis' (lower right)--signed again, dated 'Nov. 1941' and inscribed with title (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
9 x 12 in. (22.9 x 30.5 cm.)
Painted in 1941.
The Downtown Gallery, New York.
Mrs. Robert E. Barron, Luzerne, New York, acquired from the above, 1943.
Sotheby Parke-Bernet, New York, 2 December 1982, lot 103.
Private collection, St. Louis, Missouri, acquired from the above.
Christie's, New York, 4 December 1992, lot 128, sold by the above.
Acquired by the late owner from the above.
A. Decker, "Best Bids: Talk is Not Cheap," New York Magazine, November 30, 1992, p. 112.
A. Boyajian, M. Rutkowski, Stuart Davis: A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven, Connecticut, 2007, vol. I, p. 70; vol. III, p. 329, no. 1638, illustrated.
New York, The Downtown Gallery, Stuart Davis: Selected Paintings, February 2-27, 1943, no. 13.
New York, Vance Jordan Fine Art; Norfolk, Virginia, Chrysler Museum of Art, Power and Whimsy: A Private Collection of American Modernism, April 28-September 7, 2003, pp. 24, 71-72, pl. 13, illustrated.

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William Haydock
William Haydock

Lot Essay

In the early 1940s, Stuart Davis began to revisit his own compositions from the 1920s and early 30s and transform them into entirely new creations through an emphasis on strong color and overall pattern. Based on a composition from his seminal Egg Beater series of 1927, yet executed over a decade later in 1941, the present work embodies this “Amazing Continuity” found between the artist’s early works and his later, more abstracted approach. With a puzzle-like overlay of dots, lines and symbols over the underlying abstracted still-life structure, in Synthetic Souvenir, Davis utilizes vibrant color to create a dynamic composition with Cubist influences and proto-Pop style.

Synthetic Souvenir traces its arrangement of planar forms to Egg Beater No. 1 (1927, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York), the first of a series of four 1927-28 oil paintings in which Davis mocked the traditional still life by nailing an eggbeater, electric fan and rubber glove on a table and simplifying their forms through a Synthetic Cubist approach. Among his most abstract and innovative works, Davis later reflected, “You might say that everything I have done since has been based on that eggbeater idea.” (as quoted in E.C. Goossen, Stuart Davis, New York, 1959, p. 21)

Synthetic Souvenir is a literal embodiment of that statement, heightening and building upon the foundations of Egg Beater No. 1 to capture the vibrancy of Jazz Age America. Karen Wilkin explains, “Davis returned to the Egg Beater No. 1 configuration in the 1941 oil Synthetic Souvenir, whose title is perhaps an oblique reference to his reuse of the motif; he revisited the configuration yet again in the 1947 gouache Iris [The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York]. The recycling of earlier configurations as the basis for new improvisation would become fundamental to Davis’s practice from the 1940s on. It may have been derived from his deep love of jazz—he improvised on his own imagery, just as an accomplished jazz musician improvises on familiar tunes, transforming them each time with new harmonies and syncopations. He often returned specifically to the ‘hardware still lifes’ of the 1920s…syncopating the compositions with intense, radiant color and adding exuberant flourishes of dots, scrolls, and boldly written words.” (“Egg Beaters and their Kin,” Stuart Davis: A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. I, New Haven, Connecticut, 2007, p. 70)

Indeed, in Synthetic Souvenir, Davis abandons the 1927 palette, which was dominated by muted browns, blacks and tans, to instead create a vibrating juxtaposition of bright red, turquoise blue and fluorescent yellow. The clean planes of color in the earlier work are here complicated with hashmarks, stripes, dotted patterns and metallic silver detailing, which call to mind elements from Davis’s cityscapes and coastal scenes. Davis even includes arrows and a bold number ‘5,’ recalling signage of the modern city and perhaps also calling out the work’s connection to his earlier, formative series. Wilkin posits, “Perhaps Davis intended to call attention to the four original Egg Beaters when he prominently included the numeral.” (“Egg Beaters and their Kin,” p. 70)

Through the intense coloration and almost chaotic arrangement of disjointed patterning, in Synthetic Souvenir Davis viscerally immerses the viewer in the overwhelming, fast-paced environment of the modern American city. Writing about Hot Still-Scape for Six ColorsSeventh Avenue Style (1940, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts), which similarly is a revisiting of his Egg Beater No. 2 (1928, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas), Davis explained, “The subject matter of this picture is well within the everyday experience of any modern city dweller. Fruit and flowers; kitchen utensils; Fall skies; horizons; taxi-cabs; radio; art exhibitions and reproductions; fast travel; Americana; movies; electric signs; dynamics of city sights and sounds; these and a thousand more are common experience and they are the basic subject matter which my painting celebrates. The painting is abstract in the sense that it is highly selective, and it is synthetic in that it recombines these selections of color and shape into a new unity, which never existed in nature but is a new part of nature. This picture gives value and formal coherence the many beauties in the common things in our environment, and is a souvenir of pleasure felt in contemplating them.” (“Stuart Davis,” Parnassus, vol. 12, December 1940, p. 6) As the artist himself describes using the words of the present work’s title, Synthetic Souvenir similarly combines abstracted snapshots of twentieth-century life to reinvent a composition from Davis’s earlier Synthetic Cubist career into an innovative embodiment of modern America.

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