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Stuart Davis: In Full Swing

November 20, 2016 – March 5, 2017
West Building, Main Floor, Northeast Galleries

Stuart Davis, Arch Hotel, 1929, oil on canvas, Sheldon Museum of Art, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Anna R. and Frank M. Hall Charitable Trust. Photo © Sheldon Museum of Art.

This exhibition is no longer on view at the National Gallery.

Stuart Davis (1892–1964) was an American original. Born in Philadelphia to artists and raised in East Orange, New Jersey, he dropped out of high school to study painting in Manhattan with Robert Henri, the legendary teacher who urged his students to sketch daily life, read widely, ignore convention, and above all to find their own voices. Davis fell in love with the poetry of Walt Whitman, “our one big artist,” and hoped to capture “the thing Whitman felt—America.” And like Whitman, he gravitated to the bustling life of ports and docks, streets and taverns. Another formative influence, indeed “a complete bombshell,” was the 1913 Armory Show in New York, which introduced him to the expressive colors and forms of modernists like Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, and Henri Matisse. From then on Davis devoted himself to painting, surviving years of poverty to become one of the deans of American painting, aware of all movements yet beholden to none. Embracing “high” and “low” culture, abstraction and realism, image and text, Davis’s vision is remarkable for its breadth and inventiveness. 

Stuart Davis: In Full Swing passes over the artist’s earliest efforts to begin in 1921 with his breakthrough paintings of tobacco packages. Moving ahead through five decades to his final canvas, the exhibition often strays from chronology to explore Davis’s habit of recycling earlier work for new compositions. With more than one hundred of his most important, visually complex compositions on view, the exhibition highlights Davis's ability to assimilate the imagery of popular culture, the aesthetics of advertising, the lessons of cubism, and the sounds and rhythms of jazz into works that hum with intelligence and energy.

Organization: Organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

Sponsors: This exhibition is made possible by Altria Group in celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art.

Major support is provided by the Henry Luce Foundation.

The Terra Foundation for American Art also provided generous support.

The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. 

Attendance: 114,647

Catalog: Stuart Davis In Full Swing. By Barbara Haskell and Harry Cooper. Washington, D.C. : National Gallery of Art, 2016.

Other venues: Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, June 30–October 10, 2016
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco, April 8–August 6, 2017
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, September 16, 2017–January 8, 2018

Davis, Stuart
American, 1892 - 1964
Stuart Davis: In Full Swing
Video, Released: November 21, 2016, (30:00 minutes)