Lot 16
  • 16

Stuart Davis 1892 - 1964

3,000,000 - 5,000,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Stuart Davis
  • Café, Place des Vosges
  • signed Stuart Davis, l.r.
  • oil on canvas
  • 29 by 36 in.
  • (73.7 by 91.4 cm)
  • Painted in 1929.


The Downtown Gallery, New York, by 1931
Edith Gregor Halpert, New York
Edith Gregor Halpert Foundation, New York
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1975 (gift from the above)
Barbara Mathes Gallery, New York
Acquired by the present owners from the above, 1982


New York, The Downtown Gallery, Hotels and Cafés: Exhibition of Recent Paintings by Stuart Davis, January-February 1930, no. 4, illustrated
New York, The Downtown Gallery, [$100 Show], May-June 1930
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, The 126th Annual Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture, January-March 1931, no. 144
New York, Grand Central Palace, Unemployment Fund Exhibit, March 1931
New York, Anderson Galleries, American Art Association, Exhibition of Important Paintings: Old and Modern Masters in the New York Art Market from the Collections of Leading New York Dealers, March-April 1931, no. 25
New York, The Downtown Gallery, In the 1920's Exhibition of Oils, Sculpture, Watercolors and Drawings by Eighteen American Contemporaries, March 1937, no. 2 (as Café des Vosges)
New York, Julian Levi Gallery, Group Exhibition, November-December 1940, pp. 114-115 (as Place des Vosges)
Chicago, Illinois, The Arts Club of Chicago, 3 Contemporary Americans: Karl Zerbe, Stuart Davis, Ralston Crawford, February 1945, no. 6 (as Café des Vosges)
Kansas City, Missouri, William Rockhill Nelson Gallery and Atkins Museum of Art, Exhibition of Paintings by Louis Bouché, Stuart Davis, Joe Jones, Doris Rosenthal, Walter Stuempfig, Max Weber, April 1945 (as Café des Vosges)
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Stuart Davis, October 1945-February 1946, p. 21, illustrated
Springfield, Missouri, Springfield Art Museum, Loan Exhibition of American Paintings and Prints: The Edith Gregor Halpert Collection, May-June 1949
Richmond, Virginia, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Judge the Jury, February-March 1951
Minneapolis, Minnesota, Walker Art Center; Des Moines, Iowa, Des Moines Art Center; San Francisco, California, San Francisco Museum of Art; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Stuart Davis, March-November 1957, no. 4, illustrated p. 17
Salt Lake City, Utah, University of Utah, Nine American Painters: The Fourth Annual Invitational Exhibition of the University of Utah Department of Art, March 1958, illustrated
Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art, A Loan Exhibition from the Edith Gregor Halpert Collection, January-February 1960, no. 7
Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art, The Edith Gregor Halpert Collection, September-November 1962
Santa Barbara, California, Santa Barbara Museum of Art; Honolulu, Hawaii, Honolulu Academy of Arts; San Francisco, California, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, Loan Exhibition from the Edith Gregor Halpert Collection, August 1963-February 1964, no. 6
Washington, D.C., National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution; Chicago, Illinois, The 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, 1894-1964, May-November 1965, no. 43
Paris, France, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; Berlin, Germany, Amerika Haus; London, American Embassy, Stuart Davis, 1894-1964, February-June 1966, no. 13 (no. 14 in Paris)
Dallas, Texas, Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas Collects American Paintings: Colonial to Early Modern: An Exhibition of Paintings from Private Collections in Dallas, September-November 1982, no. 54, p. 132, illustrated p. 133 and in color p. 22
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art; San Francisco, California, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Stuart Davis, American Painter, November 1991-June 1992, no. 83, p. 196, illustrated in color
Fort Worth, Texas, Amon Carter Museum, Celebrating America: Masterworks from Texas Collections, September-November 2002, no. 34, p. 92, illustrated


Elisabeth Luther Cary, "The Painting on the Wall Moves toward Modernism: Collaborative Works," New York Times, June 15, 1930, section 8, p. 9
Henry McBride, "The Palette Knife," Creative Art 8, no. 4, April 1931, illustrated p. 241 (as Café)
Stuart Davis, Stuart Davis, New York, 1945, illustrated
Holger Cahill, "Stuart Davis in Retrospect, 1945-1910," Artnews 44, no. 13, October 15-31, 1945, p. 32
Elaine de Kooning, "Stuart Davis: True to Life," Artnews 56, no. 2, April 1957, illustrated p. 41
John Lucas, "The Fine Art Jive of Stuart Davis," Arts Magazine 31, no. 10, September 1957, p. 34, illustrated
Eugene Goossen, Stuart Davis, New York, 1959, p. 23, illustrated plate 23
Brian O'Doherty, American Masters: The Voice and the Myth, New York, 1973, p. 54
Paul Richard, "The Stuart Davis Switch," Washington Post, August 19, 1982, section D, p. 7, illustrated
Patricia Hills, Stuart Davis, New York, 1996, no. 72, p. 84, illustrated in color p. 85
Elizabeth Hutton Turner, Americans in Paris (1921-1931): Man Ray, Gerald Murphy, Stuart Davis, Alexander Calder, Washington, D.C., 1996, p. 50, no. 24
Ani Boyajian and Mark Rutkoski, Stuart Davis: A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. III, New Haven, Connecticut, 2007, no. 1537, pp. 199-200, illustrated in color

Catalogue Note

We are grateful to Karen Wilkin for preparing the following essay. Wilkin, a leading Davis scholar, is author of the seminal monograph Stuart Davis (Abbeville Press, New York, 1987), and was a contributor to the catalogues that accompanied the Davis retrospectives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1991) and the Peggy Guggenheim Foundation (1997), as well as the recent three volume Stuart Davis catalogue raisonné.

In the early summer of 1928, Stuart Davis arrived in Paris from New York.  His trip was financed by Juliana Force of the Whitney Studio Club which purchased two of his works on behalf of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, the club's founder and patron.  "Having heard it rumored at one time or another that Paris was a good place to be, I lost no time in taking the hint," Davis later wrote, in his characteristic wry style.  "With one suitcase I hopped a boat and arrived in the center of art and culture in the middle of June."1  He would remain in Paris until August of the following year, filling a notebook with drawings, making a series of paintings derived from those on-site sketches, and making prints.

While the tangible support that made the trip possible was rare, back in New York, the thirty five year old Davis enjoyed the esteem of his peers and the small audience for advanced art.  He had been exhibiting since 1910, when he was the star pupil at Robert Henri's art school, adept at broadly painted city scenes in his teacher's Ashcan School style.  When Davis's work was included in the juried American section of the 1913 Armory Show, the exhibition's wealth of vanguard works made him resolve that, as he wrote, he would "definitely have to become a 'Modern' artist."2  He spent the next decade in a self-imposed apprenticeship to the modernists he found most exciting, absorbing ideas about color, surface, shape, form, and space from Van Gogh, Gauguin, Matisse, Picasso, and eventually the Cubists, with an admixture of Léger and Picabia.  Along the way, Davis invented a kind of Cubist language, spoken with a vernacular American accent, and developed a reputation as a young painter to be watched.  In the years just before his departure for Paris, he had solo shows at the progressive Whitney Studio Club and the Newark Museum, he was included in an International Exhibition of Modern Art organized by the Société Anonyme (the ancestor of the Museum of Modern Art), and the audacious Edith Halpert began to represent him at The Downtown Gallery.    

During these formative years, Davis began to focus on subjects that would preoccupy him throughout his long life as a painter, alternating between the visual cacophony of the modern city and a New England fishing port, emphasizing the unexpected juxtapositions and scale shifts of man-made structures in both locations.  He also experimented with still lifes based on packaging and objects from the kitchen and the hardware store, especially in 1927, when he began to explore the possibilities of hard-edged abstraction in the radically inventive series known as the Egg Beaters.  He took two of these paintings to France with him, to introduce himself to his fellow artists and to provide continuity in the studio.  Yet in Paris, his work took a different turn.  As a lover of urban life, Davis was immediately seduced by the city's legendary charms and, in his paintings, he returned to the vernacular, Cubist-inspired imagery of his earlier cityscapes and harbor scenes.  Explaining this apparent retreat from abstraction, he wrote "... in Paris, the actuality was so interesting that I found a desire to paint it just as it was."3 

"I am principally interested in the streets," he wrote to his father. "A street of regular French working class homes of 100 years ago is interesting because they are all different in regard to size, surface, number of windows, etc."4  As a first time visitor to Europe, Davis was delighted by everything unlike America.  He roamed Paris neighborhoods, filling his sketchbook with typical streetscapes, always devoid of people.  He recorded details that struck him as particularly French:  mansard roofs, railings, shutters, café chairs and tables, French language signs, syphon bottles, a Turkish toilet.  Like many Americans, Davis was bowled over by the evidence of long habitation.  He wrote home about "the Hotel de Sens, built in 1500, a regular medieval castle,"5 and in the same letter, gave capsule histories of other buildings in the Marais, once the heart of 17th century Paris, a working class neighborhood in 1928.  He was fascinated by the exquisite Place des Vosges, whose arcades became the basis of two ambitious paintings in 1928. 

In 1928, too, Davis sketched the façade of a café in the Place, carefully noting the lettering on the signs and adding the written reminder "green" on a decorative panel.  The following year, he made a crisp, much larger ink drawing from his sketchbook notation, clarifying the elements he found most essential (and, inexplicably, changing the building number from "1" to "7.")  This drawing (illustrated), squared up for transfer, became the basis of the 1929 painting Café, Place des Vosges.  The choice of the café motif, which appears frequently throughout Davis's drawings of Paris and the paintings derived from them, was not casual.  In his informal autobiography, he wrote, "I had the feeling that this was the best place in the world for an artist to live and work, and that time it was.  The prevalence of the sidewalk café was an important factor.  It gave easy access to one's friends and gave extra pleasure to long walks through various parts of the city."6

While the subject of Café, Place des Vosges is eminently recognizable and specific, the painting is neither literal nor conventional.  In his drawings, Davis transformed his "tourist" images by his energetic line and bold compression of space; in the paintings he made from his notes, his intense, unpredictable palette creates what he called "color space."  For Davis, the role of a drawing – a "configuration," in the terminology of his voluminous theoretical notes – was to encapsulate lived experience;  the function of color was to create dynamism and to transform the artist's direct response to actuality into an autonomous, vital image.  Café, Place des Vosges, like all of Davis's Paris pictures, is extremely adventurous spatially and in terms of color.  He concentrates only on abstract architecture:  the relationship of the flat, frontal rectangular façade of the building and the deep space framed by the narrow, declarative arch.  He keeps all of these anecdotal elements more or less intact, as if so impressed by the "actuality" of Paris that he was unable to take unlimited liberties with appearances, but he turns the typical, familiar streetscape into a stage-set-like, disembodied arrangement of fragments, imaginatively reassembling them against ambiguous, minimally indicated background planes that suggest sky and sunlight. 

Yet the subject of Café, Place des Vosges is also the striking contrast between the planes of airy pink, blue, and creamy white, (a palette characteristic of many of Davis's Paris pictures) and the assertive, opaque dark and red-brown shapes of the arch and the café façade.  These oppositions, reinforced by oppositions of brushy and smooth textures, intensify the painting's energy, contradicting the forthrightness of the confrontational rectangle of the café's façade.  Further animation is provided by the warm rose of the deep space within the arcade, which is made deeper still by the crisp, dark arch, while a stippled band of red returns the furthest reaches of this zone to the surface.  Against this large planar structure, Davis deploys a counterpoint of letters and small geometric elements – dotted, striped, hatched, and delicately outlined – "abstract" accents that are justifiable as details or signage;  they add complexity to the scale of the picture and remind us that Davis was well aware of how the patterns and textures of Synthetic Cubist paintings functioned in the work of his French colleagues.  

The notable inventiveness of Café, Place des Vosges – indeed of all of Davis's Paris pictures – is not surprising, despite his avowed desire to paint the "actuality" of the city "just as it was."  Though he spoke no French, he was not isolated from the Parisian vanguard.  He was in close touch with many of the city's forward-looking Americans through his long friendship with the expatriate writer, Elliot Paul.  Paul – who seemed to know everyone in both the local and expatriate arts community – was a founder, with Eugene Jolas, of the experimental magazine, transition, where advanced writers such as Gertrude Stein published their latest efforts.  Paul arranged for Davis to visit Miss Stein's rue de Fleurus apartment, to see her celebrated collection, several times, and arranged, as well, a return visit by Miss Stein to Davis's studio.  Letters home speak of a promised meeting with Picasso, but it never seems to have materialized.  Apparently through an introduction from the Russian-born, New York-based painter, connoisseur, and occasional dealer, John Graham – who, like Paul knew everyone – Davis exchanged studio visits with Fernand Léger, who was quite enthusiastic about the young American's work. 

Davis's letters recount his disappointment with the art he saw in such exhibitions as the Société des Indépendents and the Salon d'Automne – "none of the good artists send to them," he complained7 – but it's clear from the work he produced in Paris that he was aware of what the major figures were doing.  Just as the "anecdotal" patterns in works such as Café, Place des Vosges suggest an understanding of Cubist habits, Davis's dense paint application and frequent use of aggressive, sand-enhanced texture, in his Paris pictures, suggest that he was familiar with Georges Braque's practice at the time.  It's possible, too, that Davis's very choice of subject matters in his Paris paintings and his apparent retreat from the aesthetic questions that preoccupied him before he left for Europe were deliberate reactions against Cubist ideas.  Rather than exploring the possibilities of that quintessential Cubist theme, the still life, as he had in New York, Davis invented a new category for himself, the Cubist streetscape, seen through an American lens.

The Paris pictures, particularly Café, Place des Vosges, resonated for Davis.  After his return to New York, he reprised many of his Paris motifs, fragmenting and recombining images, as if constructing his paintings out of isolated but vivid recollections.  The left side of Café, Place des Vosges, with its arch and glass windscreen, reappears in Arcade, 1930 (illustrated), detached from the café façade.  Back in the U.S., Davis began to look at his surroundings as he did Paris, recording details of New York and Gloucester, Massachusetts, with the eager attention that he had accorded French ironwork and shop signs.  In the paintings he developed from these studies, which sometimes conflate Paris and New York motifs, he substituted fractured structures of colored planes for literal spatial logic, as he did in his French streetscapes.  This approach, which had its origins in works such as Café, Place des Vosges, would be the essential basis of Davis's work for decades to come.

1Stuart Davis, Stuart Davis (New York:  American Artists Group, 1945), unpaged.  Reprinted in Diane Kelder, ed. Stuart Davis (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1971), 26.
2Stuart Davis 1945, reprinted Kelder, 23-24.
3James Johnson Sweeney, Stuart Davis (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1945), 20.
4Davis, to Edward Wyatt Davis, September 17, 1928.
6Stuart Davis, 1945, reprinted, Kelder, 27.
7Davis to mother, Helen Foulke Davis, January 25, 1929.