The Importance of Place: A Sketchbook of Drawings by Stuart Davis

Aug. 19, 2014 — None

Although artist Stuart Davis’ (1892-1964) visits to Cape Ann took place primarily during the early years of his career, the drawings he did here exploring the shapes and rhythms of the working waterfront, the upland moors and the densely populated neighborhoods of central Gloucester, served as artistic inspiration for the rest of his life. In fact, it is estimated that upwards of 70% of his paintings and caseins done between 1940 and 1963 were based on compositions created during the 1920s and 1930s—the years Davis visited Cape Ann regularly. With this exhibition of drawings done by Stuart Davis during these early years, the Cape Ann Museum explores the importance of place in the career of one of this country’s most important 20th century artists.

John Sloan and fellow artists on the side porch of the red cottage in East Gloucester, 1915. Seated, left to right: Stuart Davis, Paul Cornoyer and Agnes M. Richmond. Standing, left to right: Dolly Sloan, F. Carl Smith, Alice Beach Winter, Katherine Groschke, Paul Tietjens and John Sloan. Photograph by Charles Allan Winter. Gift of Helen Farr Sloan. Cape Ann Museum Archives.

Stuart Davis (along with his family) first came to Cape Ann and to Gloucester during the summer of 1915 at the invitation of fellow artist John Sloan. Sloan had rented a cottage at the head of Rocky Neck and the modest red dwelling quickly became a gathering spot for artists and writers. A series of black and white photographs taken that first year capture a convivial group of men and women congregated on the porch of the cottage, including Davis (seated at left) and Sloan (standing, far right), Agnes Richmond and her husband Winthrop Turney, Charles Allan Winter and Alice Beach Winter, Paul Cornoyer and Paul Tietjens.

In coming years, Davis would return to Cape Ann on a regular basis, often staying with his mother, sculptor Helen Davis who, along with her husband had purchased a house in East Gloucester across the street from artists Theresa Bernstein and William Meyerowitz. Later Helen Davis would work out of Reeds Wharf, remaining in Gloucester until her death in 1965. 

Davis took to Gloucester from the start. "[Gloucester]," he wrote, "was the place I had been looking for. It had the brilliant light of Provincetown, but with the important addition of topographical severity and the architectural beauties of the Gloucester schooner." In his enthusiasm to see all, Davis shed his canvases and his easel, exploring the landscape by foot, carrying sketchbooks which he quickly filled with drawings and notations. Over the decades, as Stuart Davis’ art underwent a steady evolution, his palette brightening, his lines sharpening and his compositions becoming increasingly abstract, Davis would return again and again to his Gloucester drawings incorporating the imagery they contained, the spars and rigging, the gas tanks, ropes, anchors and nets, into whatever he was working on.

The drawings on display in the exhibition are from sketchbooks kept by Stuart Davis between 1929 and 1938. They were donated to the Cape Ann Museum by Davis’ son, Earl. The ink and crayon on paper Gloucester Terraces is an earlier work, done on one of Stuart Davis’ first visits to the area. At the time of his death in 1964, Davis left behind thousands of pages of drawings and notes which are organized into a catalog raisonné, published in 2007.

 

Related Publications

Available here or in the Museum Shop

Stuart Davis Sketchbooks - 1932 and 1933   Stuart Davis in Gloucester, Karen Wilkins

 

Stuart Davis (1892-1964). Sketchbook 3-3, Drawing for “Black Roofs” and “Dock, Still Life", c.1930. Ink on paper. Gift of Earl Davis, 2001. [2001.14.3]