DescriptionRANDALL DAVEY (American, 1887-1964)
Cocktails at the Races, 1955
Oil on canvas
40 x 30 inches (101.6 x 76.2 cm)
Signed lower left: Randall Davey
The Randall Davey Estate, Committee to Preserve, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, n.d.;
University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, and elsewhere, "Randall Davey Retrospective," September 22-October 14, 1974.
In 1919, Randall Davey and fellow artist and racecar enthusiast John Sloan drove in a Simplex roadster from New York to Santa Fe, eager to experience the landscape and culture that had so entranced their mentor, Robert Henri, and a burgeoning community of painters. Born in New Jersey, the extroverted and affluent Davey had spent his early career studying realist portraiture with both Henri and Charles Hawthorne at the New York School of Art, and he subsequently worked with Henri in Maine, San Francisco, Spain and Europe. Santa Fe, however, best tapped into Davey's passion for nature and sports, particularly hunting, fishing, polo playing and horse racing. The following year, he and his wife, Florence, purchased a 100-acre property with a converted mill house on Upper Canyon Road, a glorious spot on the edge of the Santa Fe forest and canyon, and they settled into an enviable lifestyle of entertaining, hiking and riding thoroughbred horses.
Many of Davey's colleagues in the Santa Fe Art Colony, including Henri and Sloan, as well as Henry Balink, Jozef Bakos, Freemont Ellis, Leon Kroll, and Sheldon Parsons, specialized in portraits of Native Americans or landscapes with indigenous peoples and adobe architecture; Davey's subjects were radically different: nudes, portraits of society friends, landscapes with horses and equestrian sports. Among his artist friends, Davey was the only one to settle permanently in Santa Fe, and he also accepted seasonal teaching posts at the Kansas City Art Institute, the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, and the Broadmoor Academy in Colorado Springs, where he kept a polo stable for his favorite pastime.
The colorful and charming Cocktails at the Races is one of Davey's very finest racetrack paintings, a theme which secured his professional fortune for over thirty-five years. Davey depicted different settings for these racing scenes - the track, stable, paddock, and clubhouse - yet all mix horses with people - jockeys, polo players, trainers, owners, stewards, and the crowd. The titles of his paintings indicate that he visited tracks around the country, not only La Mesa Park in Raton, New Mexico, but also the historic Rolling Rock Club in Pennsylvania and the Hialeah Park Race Track in Florida; he sketched on site and returned to his Santa Fe studio to develop the works. Most of his large racing pictures are collage-like, thrillingly packed with people and horses, and, like the present lot, feature one or two prominent figures in the foreground, a group of spectators, mostly facing the track, in the mid-ground, and horses with riders in the background. Davey described these compositions: "I have never been much interested in actual horse portraits. I have been more interested in the nervousness of the whole situation, of the excitement of the track, the crowds [and] the colors" (P. Broder, The American West: The Modern Vision, Boston, 1984, p. 77).
Cocktails at the Races exhibits this wonderful nervous mélange of bidders, jockeys, and horses before the race. Here, two fashionably dressed women carefully scrutinize a betting slip and a newspaper review of the upcoming contenders, while simultaneously enjoying drinks at their table. A mid-ground cluster of men in hats and suits variously position themselves, mostly to observe the jockeys on horseback entering the track. Davey's close cropping of the scene to remove a distant horizon line and his sloping of the foreground table into the viewer's space further intensify the overall action.
Cocktails at the Races demonstrates Davey's insistence upon portraiture as the crux of his racing paintings - and his brilliance as a portraitist. From his early teachers of portraiture, Henri and Hawthorne, Davey had learned important tenets: the use of gestural brushwork and a bold but harmonious palette, and the necessity of capturing the sitter's inner character. Here, for example, Davey assigns import to the two women by dressing them in bright fabrics and hats and by giving them a serious task at hand: they are focused, competitive bidders like the men around them, not mere decorative objects. Davey, however, ultimately changed course from his portrait teachers by situating his sitters within a bustling rather than a plain setting, creating a powerful push-pull between the sitter as an individual and the sitter as a product of his environment.
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