32 1/4 in. x 50 in. (81.92 cm x 127 cm)
Davis explained that the masts of schooners “define the often empty sky expanse. They function as a color-space coordinate between earth and sky. From the masts of schooners the artist eventually learns to invent his own coordinates when for some unavoidable reason they are not present.” In Red Cart, one of Davis’s most influential paintings of the 1930s, the artist plays with painterly illusion by suggesting that his three-dimensional scene is actually a two-dimensional stage screen hung from grommets.
Charles H. Sawyer Curatorial Fellow
Addison Gallery of American Art: 65 Years - Catalogue Entry
Stuart Davis, one of this country's greatest artists, decisively affected the course of American art for six decades, from Ashcan realism to color-field painting of the 1960s. He was a spokesman for and defender of modern art, especially during the turbulent social, political, and economic upheavals of the 1920s and 1930s, when the very tenets of modernism were questioned.
Davis was born in 1892 in Philadelphia to artist parents who fully supported him in his choice of career. After moving to East Orange, New Jersey, Davis studied with Robert Henri in New York from 1909 to 1912. Henri exhorted his students to absorb themselves in, and to let their art flow from, the pace and drama of the immediate world around them, a lesson Davis never forgot. He was profoundly affected by the 1913 Armory Show, where he saw Post-Impressionism, Matisse, and Cubism in depth and "resolved... to become a 'modern' artist.”1 Thereafter, his art primarily depicted uniquely American scenes through what he believed was the universal language of modern art, especially Cubism. In 1921 he undertook a prolonged and systematic exploration of Cubism in its myriad aspects. By 1924 he had developed the elements of his mature style, a flat, linear, geometricizing Cubism, combined with bold, high-keyed color inspired by Matisse.
Red Cart of 1932 is a landmark picture in a year of peak activity. It was the culmination of a series of synthetic, decorative Cubist works that Davis had begun in 1928 after completing his most famous paintings, the Egg Beaters. The subsequent paintings, including Red Cart, are often viewed as a "retreat" from the distilled rigor of the Egg Beaters. They are not; they are paintings of another order, for in them Davis pursued his long-standing practice of exploring all possible stylistic varieties of a given mode, in this case Cubism.
Red Cart was based, as were most of his paintings at this time, on a view of the harbor in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where Davis spent long and productive summers from 1915 until 1940.2 It is one of the ironies of his career that while he is portrayed as a quintessentially urban artist from New York who loved jazz, many of his most important pictures took Gloucester, long home to a thriving artist's colony, as their subject. Davis loved this beautiful town and was particularly drawn to its working port in which its ships, docks, and vistas offered myriad pictorial possibilities. A schooner is anchored by the dock in the foreground, on which the red cart is stationed at left. Surrounding the dock we see the known, actual houses and factories that in some cases still exist in Gloucester; they were not invented, and we understand why Davis always referred to himself as a realist artist, not as an abstractionist. Davis, like Monet, was especially intrigued by the vertical, angular structure of the ships' masts, which offered a ready-made architecture to explore. For Davis, it paralleled the Cubist design that he had been developing for over a decade.
In his notebooks, Davis wrote and theorized extensively about the angle and the triangle as the basic units of pictorial construction. He saw space as continuous and matter as discontinuous, and set himself to analyze the shapes of space, not the shapes of objects in space. In this way he came to understand the physical fact, the reality of the painting, as the two-dimensional division of the surface. Red Cart is a marvel of a seemingly unending series of angular connections and intersections, by which we can, as Davis put it, "visualize the subject objectively in terms of sequential area alternations.”3
Davis was careful to emphasize that this was not a matter of mathematics or rules but purely of artistic intuition. It is a measure of his powers that for all his theorizing his paintings always have a fresh, spontaneous look and feel about them. Often they are punctuated by Davis's characteristic wit. Here, for example, the harbor scene appears to be painted on a stage flat, attached by rope through an eyelet in the canvas to an indeterminate backdrop formed by the black and white grid at the top, and projecting toward the viewer's space. This declares that for all its topographic exactitude the painting is, finally, a two-dimensional, fictive construction.
Red Cart is evidence that Davis was a powerful and original colorist. The deep, rich reds, blues, and yellows are almost palpable, and are enhanced and made all the more resonant by the extensive use of blacks and white. (No one was to make such effective use of blacks and white until Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Robert Motherwell in the late 1940s.) Color, no less than angle and line, carries and defines this painting—the last before Davis launched in the same year, 1932, a series rendered solely in black and white that also took Gloucester harbor as their subject.
William C. Agee, Addison Gallery of American Art: 65 Years, A Selective Catalogue (Andover, Massachusetts: Addison Gallery of American Art, 1996), pp. 352-53
1. Stuart Davis, American Artists Group Monographs 6 (New York: American Artists Group. 1945), unpaginated.
2. In 1939, Davis made a print after Red Cart, which for reasons unknown he called New Jersey Landscape.
3. Stuart Davis Sketchbooks [1932-33] (New York: Grace Borgenicht Gallery and The Arts Publisher, with the Estate of Stuart Davis, 1986), unpaginated (3rd sketchbook, penultimate leaf).
This object was included in the following exhibitions:
- Contemporary American Painting and Sculpture [Exposition d 'Art Américain Contemporain] Galerie Giroux , 9/3/1947 - 8/3/1948
- Milestones of American Painting in Our Century The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston , 1/20/1949 - 12/31/1949
- Amerika Schildert [America Paints] Stedelijk Museum , 6/16/1950 - 9/10/1950
- Amerikanische Malerei: Werden und Gegenwart American Federation of Arts , 9/20/1951 - 10/5/1951
- American Painting and Sculpture Exhibition International Student Center , 3/25/1952 - 6/9/1952
- Twentieth Anniversary Exhibition The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston , 1/8/1957 - 2/10/1957
- Stuart Davis Walker Art Center , 3/30/1957 - 11/17/1957
- Living with Design Addison Gallery of American Art , 10/22/1959 - 10/23/1959
- Art from Ingres to Pollock: Painting and Sculpture since Neoclassicism Berkeley Art Department, UC , 3/5/1960 - 4/2/1960
- Art in American History Addison Gallery of American Art , 7/22/1962 - 10/28/1962
- French, American and Italian Review Oklahoma Art Center , 4/21/1963 - 5/12/1963
- Winterfest '66 [version of Roots and Promise of American Art] Winterfest , 2/18/1966 - 2/27/1966
- Roots and Promise of American Art Addison Gallery of American Art , 1/10/1967 - 3/13/1967
- Paintings from the Addison Gallery Collection Showcase Cinema , 3/28/1967 - 4/25/1967
- Aspects of American Art History-Group Exhibition of Paintings Loaned from Coll Fitchburg Art Museum , 10/1/1968 - 11/15/1968
- The Thirties Decade: American Artists and Their European Contemporaries Joslyn Art Museum , 10/10/1971 - 11/28/1971
- Graham, Gorky, Smith and Davis in the Thirties David Winton Bell Gallery, List Art Center , 4/30/1977 - 5/22/1977
- Stuart Davis: Art and Art Theory Brooklyn Museum , 1/21/1978 - 5/28/1978
- The American Still Life 1879-1979 Addison Gallery of American Art , 10/26/1979 - 12/12/1979
- The Split-Up: The Beginning of a New Art in America Addison Gallery of American Art , 3/13/1981 - 4/12/1981
- Masterworks of American Art from the Addison Gallery Collection Hirschl and Adler Galleries, Inc. , 10/6/1981 - 10/31/1981
- Amerikanische Malerei 1930-1980 [American Painting, 1930-1980] Austellungsleitung Huas Der Kunst Munchen E.V. , 11/14/1981 - 1/31/1982
- Dissent: The Issue of Modern Art in Boston The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston , 2/18/1986 - 4/20/1986
- Selections from the Permanent Collection and Recent Acquisitions in Honor of Bla Addison Gallery of American Art , 1/15/1990 - 3/11/1990
- The American City Addison Gallery of American Art , 1/18/1991 - 3/10/1991
- American Abstraction at the Addison Addison Gallery of American Art , 4/18/1991 - 7/31/1991
- Stuart Davis: American Painter The Metropolitan Museum of Art , 11/18/1991 - 6/7/1992
- American Abstraction from the Addison Gallery of American Art American Federation of Arts , 2/27/1993 - 12/4/1994
- Andover Alumni Collectors Addison Gallery of American Art , 4/29/1995 - 7/30/1995
- Masterworks from the Permanent Collection Addison Gallery of American Art , 9/5/1995 - 12/17/1995
- Addison Gallery of American Art: 65 Years Addison Gallery of American Art , 4/13/1996 - 7/31/1996
- Stuart Davis Peggy Guggenheim Collection , 6/7/1997 - 9/9/1998
- Form and Structure: Twentieth Century Work from the Addison Collection Addison Gallery of American Art , 12/28/1998 - 4/25/1999
- Stuart Davis in Gloucester Cape Ann Historical Association , 6/5/1999 - 7/30/2000
- Parallel Perspectives: Early Twentieth Century American Art Addison Gallery of American Art , 11/16/1999 - 5/1/2000
- Place and Perceptions Addison Gallery of American Art , 4/16/2002 - 7/31/2002
- Conversations: A Collection in Dialogue Addison Gallery of American Art , 1/7/2003 - 7/31/2003
- Toward Abstraction Addison Gallery of American Art , 12/23/2005 - 3/26/2006
- Coming of Age: American Art, 1850s to 1950s American Federation of Arts , 9/9/2006 - 9/7/2009
- So Long, Farewell Addison Gallery of American Art , 4/7/2007 - 7/31/2007
- Inside, Outside, Upstairs, Downstairs: The Addison Anew Addison Gallery of American Art , 9/7/2010 - 3/27/2011
- 80 @ 80 Addison Gallery of American Art , 10/15/2011 - 12/31/2011
- American Vanguards: Graham, Davis, Gorky, de Kooning and their Circle, 1927-1942 Addison Gallery of American Art , 1/29/2012 - 6/2/2013
- Industrial Strength: Selections from the Collection Addison Gallery of American Art , 2/1/2014 - 4/13/2014
- Searching for the Real Addison Gallery of American Art , 5/30/2015 - 7/31/2015
- Selections from the Permanent Collection Addison Gallery of American Art , 9/12/2015 - 3/13/2016
- In Full Swing: The Art of Stuart Davis Whitney Museum of American Art , 6/30/2016 - 1/1/2018
- Currents/Crosscurrents: American Art, 1850–1950 Addison Gallery of American Art , 10/16/2020 - 3/7/2021
- Learning to Look: The Addison at 90 Addison Gallery of American Art , 5/8/2021 - 2/6/2022
- Swing Landscape: Stuart Davis and the Modernist Mural Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University , 2/5/2022 - 5/22/2022
- [permanent collection, 101-105] Addison Gallery of American Art , 6/25/2022 - 1/29/2023
This object has the following bibliographic references:
- tests of Andover Inn reproductions . Palm Press, Inc.. 2010
- Judith Barter. American Modernism at the Art Institute of Chicago . The Art Institute of Chicago. 2009
- Brian T. Allen. Brian Allen's article on Modern American Art in Antiques Magazine . Brant Publications, Inc.. 3/2008
- January 2008 Master of Fine Arts in Visual Arts Program Graduate Catalog . Lesley University. 12/2007
- press for Coming of Age: American Art, 1850s to 1950s . American Federation of Arts.
- ISGM Educational Initiative .
- Ani Boyajian and Mark Rutkoski. Stuart Davis Catalogue Raisonne . Yale University Press. Fall 2007
- Stuart Davis: In Full Swing . National Gallery of Art. 2016
This object is a member of the following portfolios:
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