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Stuart Davis (1892-1964)
Stuart Davis (1892-1964)

The Blues

Stuart Davis (1892-1964)
The Blues
signed and dated 'Stuart Davis 1925' (lower right)
gouache, crayon and ink on paperboard
11 ¾ x 9 ¼ in. (29.9 x 23.5 cm.), image; 14 x 11 ¾ in. (35.6 x 29.9 cm.), overall
The artist.
Mrs. Will Durant, acquired from the above.
Mrs. Ethel Kay, daughter of the above.
Ashley Graham, Los Angeles, California.
Edith Gregor Halpert, New York, 1964.
Nathaly Baum, Washington, D.C., 1967.
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1972.
The Downtown Gallery, Stuart Davis and Frank Osborn, exhibition checklist, New York, 1927, no. 14 (as Blues).
B. Catton, "The Restless Decade," American Heritage, vol. 16, no. 5, August 1965, p. 8, illustrated.
M. Benedikt, "New York Letter: Stuart Davis, 1894-1964," Art International, vol. 9, no. 8, November 20, 1965, p. 44.
Art Voices, Winter 1965, n.p., illustrated.
"A Well-Painted Decade," American Heritage, August 1965, n.p., illustrated.
F. Fabbri, Le Canzioni Piu Belle, Milan, Italy, 1973, n.p., illustrated.
A. Boyajian, M. Rutkoski, Stuart Davis: A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 2, New Haven, Connecticut, 2007, p. 538, no. 1096, illustrated.
New York, The Downtown Gallery, Stuart Davis and Frank Osborn, November 26-December 9, 1927, no. 14 (as Blues).
College Art Association Traveling Exhibition, circa October 1929 (as Blues).
Washington, D.C., National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution, and elsewhere, Stuart Davis Memorial Exhibition, 1894-1964, May 28-July 5, 1965, no. 29.
Newark, New Jersey, Bamberger's Department Store, November-December 1966.

Lot Essay

A student of Robert Henri and an early proponent of the Ashcan School of painting, Stuart Davis was also one of the first American painters to embrace the new forms of Modernism which transformed the course of art in the early years of the twentieth century. "As with other artists of his generation," writes Diane Kelder, "Davis's encounter with European Modernist painting in the Armory Show of 1913 had a decisive effect on his development. His initial training with the realist Robert Henri had encouraged an acute sensitivity to his environment, and direct visual stimuli would always be fundamental to his method of painting. Conversion to modernism did not result in Davis's repudiation of his realist heritage, but it made him aware of the autonomous character of a work of art. 'The act of painting,' he later maintained, 'is not a duplication of experience, but the extension of experience on the plane of formal invention.'” (“Stuart Davis and Modernism: An Overview," Stuart Davis, American Painter, New York, 1991, p. 17)

Davis’s acute sensitivity to his environment’ was perhaps nowhere more evident than his visceral response to jazz. An offbeat musical genre at the time at which Davis first encountered the sound, visiting seedy night clubs in Newark with fellow artist Glen Coleman, jazz spoke to Davis and readily equated his visual lexicon with the notes arranged in unusual harmonies by the musicians. Davis once remarked upon his experience at the 1913 Armory Show, stating that the artists exhibited there aroused “the same kind of excitement I got from the numerical precision of the Negro piano players...and I resolved that I would quite definitely have to become a ‘modern’ artist.” (Stuart Davis, American Painter, p. 20)

Davis’s salon visits, where he got to “hear the blues, or tin-pan alley tunes turned into real music, for the cost of a five cent beer” (A. Boyajian and M. Rutkoski, Stuart Davis: A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 1, New Haven, Connecticut, 2007, p. 127) undoubtedly inspired The Blues, a 1925 figurative work which clearly anticipates his later style. Featuring very stylized characterizations of the African-American scene at the jazz clubs, which, by 1925 were becoming more main stream, Davis has incorporated his unique blend of cubism and re-appropriated it for a distinctly American subject. Kelder notes, "Not part of an artistic group, Davis labored single-handedly in the 1920s to develop an idiomatic Cubism that translated the dynamics of the contemporary American environment into abstract color and shape…Rooted in theory and tested by experience, his work manifests a rare understanding of the ideal character of painting, as well as a broad streak of native pragmatism." (Stuart Davis, American Painter, p. 17).

The Blues was selected for a 1927 exhibit at Edith Gregor Halpert’s The Downtown Gallery, the first year the gallerist, who would become Davis’ primary dealer, represented the artist.

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