Between 1932 and 1934 Davis produced a large body of drawings and a number of paintings, of which Untitled 1932 is an example, based on his observations of the waterfront at Gloucester, Massachusetts. Davis had spent his summers at Gloucester since 1915, when fellow artist John Sloan (1871-1951) recommended the fishing village to him. He later recalled that:
Gloucester … 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. The schooner is a very necessary element in coherent thinking about art. I do not refer to its own beauty of form, but to the fact that its masts 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.1
Davis turned to the subject of schooners in the early 1930s while focusing on the geometric basis of his compositions. In his notebooks of 1932 he wrote: 'the object of drawing is to build up measurable angular variations … the unit of drawing is angular contrast'.2 In the criss-cross lines of rigging and masts of boats Davis found an inspiring and ready-made source of 'real geometric variety', which he recorded in a number of pen-and-ink drawings. Untitled 1932 derives from a sketchbook study, now in the Stuart Davis Estate, New York.3 An early photograph of the painting, in which the pencil underdrawing still shows, confirms the similarity with the drawing and indicates that the minor differences in the composition were made on the canvas itself. The lines of the drawing were then made bolder with thick, regular lines of blue oil paint. Certain elements of the motif, such as the ship's rigging, remain recognisable, others merely suggest the lights, ventilators and windows of a nautical source.
Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.185.
- Stuart Davis, 'Autobiography (1945) in Stuart Davis (ed. Diana Kelder), New York and London: Praeger Publishers, 1971, p.25.
- ibid., p.57.
- The source of the painting in the 1932 drawing was pointed out by William C. Agee who, in conjunction with the Estate of Stuart Davis, is preparing the catalogue raisonné of the artist's work (correspondence with the Gallery, 9 May 1986).
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010