Cape Ann Historical Association
Stuart Davis in Gloucester
The Coast, 1921, Collection of Earl Davis, Salander-O'Reilly Gallery, Inc., New York
The Cape Ann Historical Association has long been interested in the relationship between its special place and the artists who work in Gloucester. There could be no better opportunity for exploring this connection than the exhibition Stuart Davis in Gloucester which opened on June 5, 1999.
Stuart Davis spent summers in Gloucester from 1915 through 1933. As he later recalled in his autobiography, "I went to Gloucester, Mass. on the enthusiastic recommendation of John Sloan. That was 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 ... I went to Gloucester every year, with few exceptions, until 1934, and often stayed late into the fall. I wandered over the rocks, moors and docks, with a sketching easel, large canvases, and a pack on my back, looking for things to paint."
To a greater extent than many visiting artists, Davis enjoyed being part of everyday activities in Gloucester. In a letter to his mother, he described a couple of ordinary days: "Smith & Cornoyer [artists and friends] got up at 6 o'clock the other morning and went smelt fishing. I went along with them. The wharf was packed with school boys, conductors and motormen, laborers and even the man who owns the Savoy Hotel was there. Each one had a little bamboo pole and they were packed so close together that you would wonder how in the world they ever kept from getting the lines so tangled up that they would never come undone. Well Smith and Cornoyer caught 88 smelts in two hours. We had them for lunch, supper and lunch again...Yesterday afternoon Smith and I got Cornoyer's dory. It is the oldest vessel afloat ... It takes two people to run it. One to row and the other to keep the water from getting any higher than the rower's knees. Smith was a fine bailer. The water never got over my ankles."
Davis's vision of Gloucester and his feelings for it did not result in conventional landscape paintings, however. Davis had participated in two earlier watershed New York Shows - the Independents Show of 1910 and the International Exhibition of Modern Art ( the Armory Show) in 1913. He was profoundly affected by the examples of European modernism included in the Armory show, and during the early 1920s, he increasingly used Gloucester subject matter as flattened elements and shapes, while most other artists continued to represent Cape Ann scenes in a realistic way.
Contemporary reviewers were known to use such words as "weirdly wonderful," "panoramic perversions" and "quite painty and peculiar" in commenting on Davis's work.
During his years in Gloucester, Davis exhibited his work
at the Gallery-on-the-Moors and the Gloucester Society of Artists, as well
as in his own studio - paintings with titles such as Still Life with
Purple Pipe, Gloucester Towers, Garage, Universalist Church, Gasoline
Pump, Steeple and Street and "Use Gorton's Codfish."
By 1927, he had attracted the attention of Edith Halpert, owner of the Downtown
Gallery in New York and an important advocate for American modernism. From
that point on, Davis's life was increasingly centered in New York, but Gloucester
images continued to appear in his work until his death in 1964.
For further biographical information on selected artists cited in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.
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