Stuart Davis 1892-1964
- Stuart Davis
- Still Life with Map, New Mexico
- signed Stuart Davis and dated 1923, l.r.
- oil on canvas
Harry Stone, New York
Joseph Hirshhorn, New York, after 1954
The Downtown Gallery, New York, by 1965
Estate of Edith Gregor Halpert, New York (sold: Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, March 14-15, 1973, lot 54, illustrated in color (as Still Life with Saw)
David and Peggy Rockefeller, New York (acquired at the above sale)
Owings-Dewey Fine Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 2001
Washington, D.C., Smithsonian Institution; Chicago, Illinois, Art Institute of Chicago; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Los Angeles, California, The Art Galleries, University of California at Los Angeles, Stuart Davis Memorial Exhibition, May-November 1965, no. 22
Ridgefield, Connecticut, Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Creative Arts Awards, 1957-1966: Tenth Anniversary Exhibition, April-June 1966
Albuquerque, New Mexico, University of New Mexico Art Museum; San Antonio, Texas, Marion Koogler McNay Art Institute; San Francisco, California, The San Francisco Museum of Art; Los Angeles, California, Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, Cubism: Its Impact in the U.S.A., 1910-1930, February-August 1967, no. 15
Fort Worth, Texas, Amon Carter Museum, American Art, 20th Century: Image to Abstraction, September-November 1967
Ani Boyajian and Mark Rutkoski, Stuart Davis: A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. III, New Haven, Connecticut, 2007, no. 1484, p. 130, illustrated in color
At the behest of his friend and mentor John Sloan, Stuart Davis set out for a five-month visit to New Mexico with his brother Wyatt in 1923. He later recalled in 1945, "I spent three or four months there in 1923 – until late fall – but did not do much work because the place itself was so interesting. 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. You always have to look at it." Davis appears to have had access to a car, and spent a good deal of time just exploring the countryside. His letters mention several visits to different Native American pueblos around the Santa Fe region, including Zuni, Tesuque and Nambé. They also offer a glimpse of his adventures while he traversed the area: he bought red chile peppers to send to his mother, collected ceramics from the local Indians, bought a sombrero, and learned to ride a horse. In a letter postmarked June 19, Davis wrote: "Yesterday Sloan and I went in the auto to paint but we got into such interesting scenery that we kept on and on to see what was over the next hill all the time. We went to Nambé Pueblo and beyond it... Drove right over the ground no road or nothing. We came to some huge eroded monoliths or picachos and climbed around them for a couple of hours. Just like the Grand Canyon on a small scale" (The Modern West, 2006, p. 155).
Of the approximately fifteen canvases Davis completed in New Mexico, most were done in his Santa Fe basement studio at the Palace of the Governors and his initial efforts were heavily influenced by the Cubist works and theories he had studied in the 'teens. Davis had participated in the Armory Show of 1913, and while his artistic beginnings were rooted in the Ashcan style, he spent the remainder of the decade exploring the daring modern styles of Post-Impressionism and Fauvism, before eventually settling on Synthetic Cubism. By 1920 he started to write his own artistic manifesto, finishing it in the fall of 1922. His journal focused not just on basic artistic principles, such as line and form, but also his own American version of Cubism which blended both high and low art. He sought an expression of everyday American life and popular culture, citing Babe Ruth and 'sporty automobiles' as examples. He stated "Simply take some things you like and make something out of them. 'Copy Nature' only copy the nature of the present days – photographs and advertisements. Tobacco cans and bags and tomato can labels..." (The Modern West, p. 154). Works such as Lucky Strike (1921, Museum of Modern Art, New York) exemplified this new credo, displaying Davis' Cubist technique of flattening the picture plane through the use of text, while raising a decidedly low brow object of a cigarette box to the realm of fine art. This use of everyday objects in his pictures was inspired in part by Dadaists Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia.
Davis had begun to paint everyday objects like the handsaw in the early twenties, and it was in New Mexico that the eggbeater first made its appearance. Davis would continually refer back to both of these objects throughout the course of his career. In Still Life with Map, New Mexico a pale magenta saw and a blue map are juxtaposed within an interior green and red border in a noticeably two-dimensional picture plane. Though New Mexico is the source for this image, Davis has reduced the landscape to a mere suggestion of a mountain along the bottom edge. Instead of a vista, the flat map functions as the memento of his travels; the map has also been reduced, indicating only the cities of Santa Fe and Gallup, as well as the Zuni Pueblo, three places he visited while traveling throughout New Mexico.
In her exhibition catalogue, The Modern West: American Landscapes 1890-1950, Emily Neff describes the painting as: "Witty colorful, engaging, and muscular. The painting moves back and forth between flatness and allusions to three-dimensionality, embodied strategically in the map's form. Like a conventional painting of a landscape, a map by its nature reduces three dimensions to a flat surface. The can appears as a 'regular' object but also assumes the form of a roadrunner or some sort of figure dashing across the landscape. This jolly tension gives the painting a startling presence that Davis's bold colors of green, pink, red, and blue make even more vivid, especially as the artist uses them to create a frame, a device that first appears during his New Mexico period and will become a leitmotif in his work. Just as the painted frame of the map within the painting objectifies the landscape, the painted 'frame' literally turns the artist's experience of the landscape and also his experience of painting it into a picture" (The Modern West, p. 156).
With its sun-drenched plains and natural sculptural forms, New Mexico turned out to be an ideal place for Davis's pursuit of abstraction. Ultimately, however, the desert's distance from the energy of quickly modernizing cities ran counter to Davis's interest in an artform that engaged contemporary life. In October 1923 he suddenly indicated a desire to go home. He reflected in 1945 that New Mexico was "a place for an ethnologist not an artist. Not sufficient intellectual stimulus." Davis would go on to emerge as one of the most important pioneers of American modernism, but would never return to New Mexico to paint again.