Photo © The Israel Museum, Jerusalem
Stuart Davis
American, 1894–1964
New York Under Gaslight
1941
Oil on canvas
81 x 115 cm
Gift of Mrs. Rebecca Shulman, New York
Accession number: B55.05.2603
 
 
New York under Gaslight portrays the area around the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City, with its many-windowed office buildings, tenements, advertisements, and storefronts. Davis, one of the artists who introduced European avant-garde styles to American audiences, adapted elements of Cubism and infused them with wit, originality, and bold coloring. By depicting everyday commodities and urban landscapes, he emblematized modern American life, foreseeing Pop art imagery. The painting demonstrates Davis’s “color-space” theory; as in theatrical scenery, he restricted himself to flat shapes and colors, but he arranged them to create contrasts in which some of the colors advance and others recede. He also used verbal and visual puns to anchor the convoluted structures in reality. Here, the first letter in the word “DENT[IST]” has a dent in it. House number 43 holds an autobiographical reference, as Davis’s apartment and studio were located at 43 Seventh Avenue in Manhattan. Interested in jazz as a unique form of American culture, Davis borrowed jazzy jargon for the sign reading “Dig this fine art jive.” For the overall composition, Davis copied very closely one of his earlier paintings, The Barber Shop of 1930 (Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, New York), but added barbed wire and the foundation of a bombed-out building in the foreground in order to allude to the destabilization of American life in the face of ominous world events.

Publications:
Kamien-Kazhdan, Adina (ed.), Modernism in Dialogue: 20th-Century Painting and Sculpture in the Israel Museum, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 2010

Digital presentation of this object was made possible by: Ms. Joan Lessing, New York and Jerusalem