DescriptionSTUART DAVIS (American, 1892-1964)
Greek Backwards (Greek Restaurant), 1921
Watercolor and pencil on paper
23-1/2 x 18 inches (59.7 x 45.7 cm)
Signed and dated lower right: Stuart Davis 1921
PROPERTY FROM THE KING COLLECTION, TEXAS
Mrs. Stuart Davis, wife of the above;
Collection of Earl Davis, son of the artist;
Grace Borgenicht Gallery, Inc., New York;
[With] Estate of the artist, through Earl Davis;
Salander-O'Reilly Galleries, Inc., New York;
[With] Earl Davis;
Owings-Dewey Fine Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico;
Acquired by the present owner from the above, July 2007.
Whitney Studio Club, New York, 1921;
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, and elsewhere, "20th Century American Drawings," November 7, 1976, no. 58;
Rahr-West Museum, Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and elsewhere, "Stuart Davis: The Formative Years 1910-1930," March-September 9, 1983, no. 15;
Salander-O'Reilly Galleries, Inc., New York, "Selections: Stuart Davis Exhibition," October 3-25, 1986, no. 1;
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and elsewhere, "Stuart Davis: American Painter," November 23, 1991-February 16, 1992, no. 34;
Koriyama City Museum of Art, Koriyama, Japan, and elsewhere, "Stuart Davis: Retrospective," July 8-November 26, 1995, no. 39;
Pierpont Morgan Library and Salander-O'Reilly Galleries, New York, "Stuart Davis: Art and Theory, 1920-1931," September 10-December 15, 2001, no. 2;
El Paso Museum of Art, El Paso, Texas, "Modern American Painting 1907-1936: The Maria and Barry King Collection," September 8, 2013-January 5, 2014, no. 74.
Guggenheim Foundation, Amerikanische Zeichner des 20 Janhrhunderts---Drei Generationen von der Armory Show bis heute, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1976, n.p.;
K. Wilkin, Stuart Davis, New York, 1987, p. 90, illustrated;
L. Sims, B. Agee, et al., Stuart Davis: American Painter, exhibition catalogue, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1991, p. 152, no. 34 (as Greek Backwards);
D. Kelder, Stuart Davis: Art and Theory, 1920-1931, exhibition catalogue, Pierpont Morgan Library and Salander-O'Reilly Galleries, New York, 2002, pp. 16-17, illustrated;
A. Boyajian and M. Rutkoski, Stuart Davis: A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. I, New Haven, Connecticut, 2007, p. 304, no. 1063, illustrated;
P.S. Cable, Modern American Painting 1907-1936: The Maria and Barry King Collection, exhibition catalogue, El Paso Museum of Art, El Paso, Texas, 2013, pp. 184-85, no. 74, illustrated.
By the early 1920s, Stuart Davis had left behind the representational realism of his early career. No matter how abstract his work became--and the degree of abstraction varied throughout his career--he always considered himself an observer of the world around him. In 1951, Davis expressed regret about his association with abstraction: "I have long been 'type-cast' as 'Abstract' because my interest in Abstractions is practically zero" (as quoted in D. Kelder, ed., Stuart Davis, New York, 1971, p. 11). To be more precise, the artist identified his paintings as "Color-Space Compositions," in which areas of color define spatial relationships. Davis applied his formal concepts to subject matter ranging from still lifes and landscapes to commercial imagery and other aspects of urban life. Greek Backwards (Greek Restaurant) from 1921 is an stunning example of Davis' use of Cubist principles to forge his own brand of Modernism.
Davis was born in 1892 into an artistic family from Philadelphia. His father served as an art editor of the Philadelphia Press, a newspaper firm that also employed Robert Henri and members of his Ash Can circle, known as The Eight. Davis studied with Henri in New York between 1909 and 1912, and his early work embodies the dark, broadly brushed style and urban themes associated with the Ash Can School. In 1913, as one of the youngest artists to contribute to the Armory Show, Davis submitted five watercolors, and his experience was life-altering. Stuart subsequently began his investigation of European Modernism and its American adherents.
After exploring a variety of Modernist approaches, Davis began in the 1920s to formulate his mature style, which evolved from Synthetic Cubism but quickly became Davis' own. "It is fair to say that both the abstracting aesthetics of Cubism and the populist spirit of the Ash Can School were major components of Davis' subsequent career. In this respect he tirelessly defended the potential of modernism to effect social change, he considered popular jazz to be the musical counterpart of visual abstraction, and he incorporated words, signs, and consumer products from everyday life into his geometrical representations, an aspect that sparked his critical reappraisal with the rise of Pop art in the 1960s...Using only a few isolated 'signs' floating against the white of the paper-whether geometrized visual signs or the literal sign GREEK--Davis portrays the interior of a Greek restaurant looking out through its front-plate glass window. Here, he also takes the Cubist joy in visual text one step further than its simple use as a signifier for an element from common life: to quote Davis scholar Diane Kelder, 'By writing Greek backwards Davis slyly alluded to popular perceptions that Cubist pictorial strategies were incomprehensible" (Modern American Painting 1907-1936: The Maria and Barry King Collection, p. 184)
Greek Backwards (Greek Restaurant) appears to be the artist's abstracted view of sitting inside a Greek restaurant looking out through the front plate glass window where the word "Greek" would be seen in its backwards presentation. There are fragmented architectural elements abstracted to represent a counter on the left and a blue door on the right. The vertical boundaries of this Cubist abstraction can be identified by a ceiling cornice above the blue door and a triangle of red, below which appears to be the floor.
Davis's paintings from 1921 on, as demonstrated by Greek Backwards (Greek Restaurant), demonstrate his flattening of abstracted matter with everything parallel to the surface, juxtaposing single views of multiple objects. In later interviews, the artist stated that lettering in his Cubist abstractions not only introduced the human element, but also acted as a carrier of associative meaning and a key to the structural elements. Karen Wilkin quotes Davis as saying "Letters, lock scale. Letters lock color" (as quoted in Stuart Davis, New York, 1987, p. 90).
Sheet appears to be lightly undulating along the left and right edges under the mat; possible minor toning along the sheet edges; scattered faint pinpoints of foxing. This painting is framed using Optium (museum acrylic glazing), which provides clear legibility for examination with both white light and black light. In order to maintain the integrity and airtight sealing of the housing, the painting was not viewed out of the frame for the condition report. Should you wish to have a more extensive report, we recommend firsthand inspection by a professional conservator. For assistance, please contact the department.
*Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.
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