In the summer of 1923, Stuart Davis traveled to Santa Fe, New Mexico, at the invitation of his friend and fellow painter John Sloan. Davis found the vast landscape of New Mexico intimidating, writing, "I don't think you could do much work there except in a literal way, because the place is...
In the summer of 1923, Stuart Davis traveled to Santa Fe, New Mexico, at the invitation of his friend and fellow painter John Sloan. Davis found the vast landscape of New Mexico intimidating, writing, "I don't think you could do much work there except in a literal way, because the place is always there in such a dominating way." Instead of painting the natural world, "forms made to order, to imitate," he retreated indoors, working primarily on intimate still lifes during his visit. In "Apples and Jug," Davis took traditional still-life elements-fruit and an earthenware vessel-and transformed them using a modernist vocabulary. The formal arrangement of a conventional subject matter, the studio still life, is reconfigured through adventurous geometric abstraction. The organic shapes of the apple and handcrafted pottery jug are distilled, reduced to striking, graphic forms that are similar to the advertising imagery that Davis experimented with in the 1920s. He fractured the forms into separate planes of color and texture that intersect with the clear, black outlines of the objects. Davis pushed himself and the possibilities for his abstractions in new directions with the New Mexican still lifes, employing vivid color to define and enliven form and divorcing it from the impulse to imitate the original source. The essence of this seemingly arbitrary and expressive use of color can be seen in the flat areas of color in "Apples and Jug." Striped green diagonals seem to indicate the contour of the pitcher, yet in smaller lengths they extend to the right beyond the vessel's edge. An area of mustard yellow echoes the angle of the diagonals, cutting across the foreground apple. The yellow continues into the checkered cloth beneath the apple, where it intersects with the green that surrounds the jug. The cumulative result is an intentional and sophisticated toying with space and perspective, confirming that Davis was fully aware of modern painting as practiced in Europe, from Cézanne to the Cubists, and in particular the works of French artists Pablo Picasso and Fernand Léger. In May of 1923, just prior to departing for New Mexico, Davis would have seen Picasso's exhibition at the Whitney Studio Club, where Davis himself would later show "Apples and Jug." "Apples and Jug" shows how Davis grappled with-and mastered-the lessons offered by Picasso and the Europeans, despite not yet having traveled to Europe (he would make his first trip to Paris in 1928). These still lifes provided the foundation for the breakthrough Egg Beater series [1990.391] of 1927-28, in which Davis restricted himself to a single still life arrangement for an entire year, earning him renown as one of the earliest and most original American contributors to modernist painting. Cody Hartley
Upper left: STUART DAVIS 1923; Reverse: STILL LIFE/STUART DAVIS/1923
The artist; with Downtown Gallery, New York; to William H. Lane (1914-1995), 1953; to William H. Lane Foundation, 1953; to MFA, 1990, gift of the William H. Lane Foundation.
Gift of the William H. Lane Foundation
@ The Estate of Stuart Davis / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY