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Robert Torchia, “Stuart Davis/Multiple Views/1918,” American Paintings, 1900–1945, NGA Online Editions, (accessed October 27, 2016).


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Sep 29, 2016 Version

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In February 1918 Stuart Davis was invited to participate in the Exhibition of Indigenous Painting at Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s Whitney Studio Club at 8 West Eighth Street in New York. The participating artists were asked to draw lots for canvases, and then to spend three days painting them on-site. Davis’s contribution to the event was Multiple Views, an unusual composite of paintings and sketches that he had made while working in the historic fishing town of Gloucester, Massachusetts, and that he apparently managed to recall or consult while working on the painting. The images include a car at a gas pump, a garage, a churchyard, and bits of seascape, all anchored by two women in green, one standing and one seated, looking into the distance.

In 1953 Davis recalled that Multiple Views was “made out of things I had been painting recently and had in my mind. . . . I had done that kind of composition before that time . . . composing things that you don’t usually see at one time. I have drawings done in that manner.” Combining vignettes to create a single image was a common practice in cartooning, and Davis had employed it in ink drawings the previous year. It is also possible that Davis used Multiple Views to explore cubist ideas about simultaneity, discontinuous space, and shifting viewpoints, while retaining naturalistic imagery. However problematic and complex, Multiple Views is an important early work whose insistent two-dimensionality and prominent use of words and signage (in the garage at right) make it a harbinger of Davis’s mature work.


Stuart Davis had been deeply impressed by the modern art he had seen at the Armory Show in 1913, and spent the remainder of the decade patiently investigating avant-garde styles, especially the high color and thick impasto common to both Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853 - 1890) and the fauves, but also certain kinds of geometric abstraction. Although he would not make explicitly cubist paintings until 1921–1922, he had certainly seen cubist works at the Armory Show, and the complex space and relatively subdued palette of Multiple Views may reflect that interest. Davis would come to consider cubism the most important of all modern styles.

In February 1918 Davis was one of 20 painters invited to participate in the Exhibition of Indigenous Painting at Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s (Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney) Whitney Studio Club at 8 West Eighth Street in Greenwich Village. The artists, including John Sloan (American, 1871 - 1951), George Benjamin Luks (American, 1866 - 1933), William Glackens (American, 1870 - 1938), Gifford Beal (American, 1879 - 1956), and Guy Pène du Bois (American, 1884 - 1958), were asked to draw lots for prepared and framed canvases and then to spend three days painting them on-site. Whitney provided art supplies, whiskey, tobacco, food, and gingham smocks. Davis’s contribution to the raucous event was Multiple Views, an unusual composite of paintings and sketches that he had made while working in the historic fishing town of Gloucester, Massachusetts, and that he apparently managed to recall or consult while working on the painting.

Gloucester played a significant role in Davis’s career. He had first visited the town in 1915 at the recommendation of Sloan, and pronounced it “the place I had been looking for”:

It had the brilliant light of Provincetown, but with the important additions of topographical severity and the architectural beauties of the Gloucester schooner.

The schooner is a very necessary element in coherent thinking about art. I do not refer to its own beauty of form, but to the fact that its masts define the often empty sky expanse. They function as a color-space coordinate between earth and sky. They make it possible for the novice landscape painter to evade the dangers of taking off into the void as soon as his eye hits the horizon. From the masts of schooners the artist eventually learns to invent his own coordinates when for some unavoidable reason they are not present. Another very important thing about the town at that time was that the pre-fabricated Main Street had not yet made its appearance. Also the fact that automobiles were very few and their numerous attendant evils were temporarily avoided.[1]

Davis returned to Gloucester almost annually until 1934.

In 1953 the artist recalled the unusual circumstances under which he had painted Multiple Views at the Whitney Studio Club, explaining that it was “made out of things I had been painting recently and had in my mind. . . . I had done that kind of composition before that time . . . composing things that you don’t usually see at one time. I have drawings done in that manner.”[2] John R. Lane has pointed out that combining vignettes to create a sense of simultaneity was a common technique in cartooning and that Davis had employed it in the drawing Forty Inns on the Lincoln Highway No. 2.[3]

Although the rules of the Exhibition of Indigenous Painting required artists to work entirely from memory, Davis may have secreted some previously executed sketches of Gloucester into the event. In short, Multiple Views was not an impromptu effort on his part.[4] Despite his self-professed aversion to automobiles, he incorporated a car and car-related imagery into the picture, imagery derived from two 1917 paintings: Garage No. 1 [fig. 1] and Garage No. 2 [fig. 2]. This method of using previous imagery in a new composition would become characteristic of Davis’s later work.[5] A critic for the New York Sun noted of Multiple Views: “Stuart Davis has painted all of his past life into his picture besides a great deal of mere hearsay. He has fitted countless scenes into one picture, somewhat in the style of children’s puzzle pictures, and painted them in with vigor. Mr. Davis’s neighbor artists at the time of the competition must surely have been splattered with much paint.”[6] However, if there was any paint splattering it would have come from the intoxicated Luks, whose efforts to add some strokes to Multiple Views had to be fended off by Davis.[7]

Multiple Views is an ambitious but awkward work that has stimulated much discussion among art historians. To quote Philip Rylands, “What appears to be a fairly straightforward realist work actually embodies modernist strategies of contradiction and ambiguity.”[8] Jane Myers has observed that “its composition is not completely resolved; the discrepancy between illustrative space and abstract space is disturbing, and despite the artist’s efforts to stress the physical reality of the whole painted surface, the various parts do not coalesce.”[9] Perhaps the tension in Multiple Views arose from the fact that Davis had only a partial understanding of cubism at this point. John R. Lane has stated that the artist “developed a solution involving a montage of vignettes to the problem of infusing the dimension of time into painting that did not rely on the cubist vocabulary.”[10] In Diane Kelder’s opinion, Davis combined all the disparate images of Gloucester “in an effort to create an effect of simultaneity. The formal and procedural contradictions so evident in this painting resulted from a desire to impose a new conceptual order on the observed world, an order that Davis was beginning to identify with cubism but which he was not yet capable of expressing.”[11]

Karen Wilkin recently wrote that although Multiple Views “seems timid and undistinguished,” Davis “almost inadvertently explored essential cubist concepts of discontinuous space and shifting viewpoints, not by replicating the look of a cubist image but by juxtaposing a series of self-contained vignettes.” She also noted, “Davis’s pictures of this type, while problematic, embody, too, cubism’s generating idea of ‘collaging’ together a range of perceptions. . . . Such works might be described as a kind of conceptual cubism, intellectually inventive but still wedded to naturalistic appearances.”[12]

Brian O’Doherty, one of the best writers on Davis, sidesteps the nagging issue of cubism and the charges of irresolution. Instead he regards Multiple Views as “Davis’s key early picture,” one that reveals an additive compositional habit (the juxtaposition of distinct parts) that stayed with him throughout his career, whether those parts were words, objects, or words standing for objects. For O’Doherty, the result was a species of “concrete poetry” that foreshadowed the stenciled letters of Jasper Johns (American, born 1930) and the rebuses of Robert Rauschenberg (American, 1925 - 2008).[13]

Robert Torchia

September 29, 2016


lower right: STUART DAVIS 1918


The artist's son, Earl Davis; gift 2008 to NGA.

Exhibition History
Exhibition of Indigenous Paintings, Gertrude Vanderbilt (Mrs. Harry Payne) Whitney's Studio Club, New York, 1918, pamphlet no. 10.
Portrait of a Place: Some American Landscape Painters in Gloucester, Cape Ann Historical Association, Gloucester, 1973, no. 25, repro.
Stuart Davis: Art and Art Theory, The Brooklyn Museum; Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1978, no. 4, repro.
William Carlos Williams and the American Scene 1920-1940, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1978-1979, unnumbered catalogue, fig. 30.
The Gloucester Years, Grace Borgenicht Gallery, New York, 1982, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
Stuart Davis: Provincetown and Gloucester Paintings and Drawings, Grace Borgenicht Gallery, New York, 1986.
Stuart Davis: Scapes, Salander-O'Reilly Galleries, Inc., New York, 1990, no. 34, repro.
Stuart Davis, American Painter, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Art, 1991-1992, no. 23, repro.
Stuart Davis: Retrospective 1995, Koriyama City Museum of Art; The Museum of Modern Art, Shiga; Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum, 1995, no. 21, repro.
Stuart Davis in Gloucester, Cape Ann Historical Museum, Gloucester, Massachusetts, 1999, unnumbered catalogue, pl. 4.
Stuart Davis in Gloucester, Alpha Gallery, Boston, 2002, checklist no. 13.
Goossen, E.C. Stuart Davis. New York, 1959: 16, 18, 19, fig. 4.
Blesh, Rudi. Stuart Davis. New York and London, 1960: 15, fig. 8.
Nordness, Lee, ed. Text by Allen S. Weller. Art USA Now. 2 vols. Lucerne, 1962: 1:opp. p. 70.
Stuart Davis Memorial Exhibition. Exh. cat. National Collection of Fine Arts, Washington, D.C.; Art Institute of Chicago; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Art Galleries, University of California at Los Angeles. Washington, D.C., 1965: 17, as Gloucester Tour (Multiple Views).
Kelder, Diane, ed. Stuart Davis. New York, Washington, and London, 1971: 6, fig. 6.
O'Doherty, Brian. American Masters: The Voice and the Myth. New York, 1973: 51, 52, repro.
Baigell, Matthew. Dictionary of American Art. New York, 1979: 88.
Kelder, Diane. "Stuart Davis: Pragmatist of American Modernism." Art Journal 39, no. 1 (Fall 1979): 30, fig. 2, 35.
Marks, Claude. World Artists 1950-1980. New York, 1984: 183.
Myers, Jane, ed. Stuart Davis: Graphic Work and Related Paintings with a Catalogue Raisonné of the Prints. Exh. cat. Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, 1986: 3-4, 8, repro.
Agee, Wililam C. Stuart Davis (1892-1964): The Breakthrough Years 1922-1924. Exh. cat. Salander-O'Reilly Galleries, Inc., New York, 1987: n.p.
Wilkin, Karen. Stuart Davis. New York, 1987: 71, pl. 71.
O'Doherty, Brian. American Masters: The Voice and the Myth. New York, 1988: 51.
Berman, Avis. Rebels on Eighth Street: Juliana Force and the Whitney Museum of American Art. New York, 1990: 151.
Polcari, Stephen. Abstract Expressionism and the Modern Experience. Cambridge, Massacusetts, 1991: 13 fig. 7, 14.
Hills, Patricia. Stuart Davis. New York, 1996: 42, 46, 47 pl. 34, 49.
Rylands, Philip. Stuart Davis. Exh. cat. Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice; Palazzo delle esposizione, Rome; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C. Milan, 1997: 30 repro., 94.
Kelder, Diane. Stuart Davis: Art and Theory, 1920-1931. Exh. cat. Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, 2002: 2-3, fig. 2.
Boyajian, Ani, and Mark Rutkoski, eds. Stuart Davis: A Catalogue Raisonné. 3 vols. Essays by William C. Agee and Karen Wilkin. New Haven and London, 2007: 1:6, 76, 109, 130; 3:71-73, no. 1418, repro.
Technical Summary

The painting is executed on a plain-weave, lightweight canvas. The priming is presumed to be oil-based and ranges from yellow to slightly beige in color. It is lined with a heavy fabric using a wax adhesive that is stretched on a four-member, mortise-and-tenon, keyable stretcher that is probably original. The original tacking margins are intact, indicating that the painting retains its original dimensions. Infrared examination shows no underdrawing.[1] X-radiography shows no significant artist changes. The paint (thought to be oil) has been applied in multiple layers using brushes and a palette knife. The paint has been worked in a variety of techniques, including wet into wet and scumbling. The thickness of the paint layers varies throughout the composition. In some instances the ground can be easily detected through the thin, scumbled layers of paint, while in other sections the paint is extremely thick and heavily impastoed. The paint surface is generally cracked, with wider aperture craquelure found in the most thickly painted areas. There are only a few tiny losses scattered around the painting, most notably a concentration of small losses in the lower left corner. The painting was cleaned in 2011 at the National Gallery of Art, when a heavily discolored varnish containing oil was removed and replaced with a fresh, thin layer of synthetic varnish. The small losses were inpainted during this treatment as well.