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Nude Figure Looking Up

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Nude Figure Looking Up

Artist: Arthur B. Davies (American, 1862-1928)

Date: 1923
Medium: Crayon and chalk or pastel on Japan paper
Overall: 18 x 13in. (45.7 x 33cm)
Image: 17 13/16 x 12in. (45.2 x 30.5cm)
Signed: Recto, lower right (graphite): 'A.B.D.' Recto, lower right (black ink): "Arthur B. Davies"
Credit Line: Gift of Frederic Newlin Price
Object number: 50.2
Text Entries

Davies created figure studies in pastels on toned papers throughout his career. Reviews from his 1916 Macbeth Galleries exhibition with Walt Kuhn and Jules Pascin make special note of such works: “There are also many spirited drawings by Mr. Davies in white chalks upon colored papers of the sort that have so frequently been acclaimed” and “Among the earliest things one remembers of Davies were chalk drawings of line and movement in the human figure done upon toned paper.”(3) In the MWPI drawing Davies isolated the figure and filled the entire sheet with the model’s standing pose, thereby underscoring the woman’s statuesque quality. As was his practice, Davies used toned paper and created the figure with a contour of black crayon. The line is uneven, as if Davies sometimes picked up the crayon in the process of watching the model. He created the appearance of volume and gradations of light on the model’s body with white chalk or pastel. In this drawing, the crayon and chalk operate separately, fulfilling distinct roles in creating the image as they complement the intermediate color of the rich, brown paper.(4)

The woman in the MWPI drawing appears to have been caught in the process of dancing; she turns in a pirouette with her arms extended and her leg crossed.(5) The idealized beauty of this tall and elegant model was appropriate for the allegorical and mythological subjects that Davies preferred.(6) The figure could have been integrated into one of his multi-figured “continuous compositions”; these depicted several dreamy nymphs floating across a frieze-like, horizontal composition as if they were one person moving in stop-action.(7) The pose the model in the MWPI drawing strikes, however, is virtually identical to that of a figure in Davies’s 1923 color lithograph Counterbalance (Philadephia Museum of Art).(8) In this print, he isolated two women against a blank field in a vignette reminiscent of Third Style Roman painting. The MWPI drawing, therefore, can be dated tentatively to 1923 based not only on its relationship to Counterbalance but also on the fact that Davies exhibited drawings similar to the MWPI work in 1923 at the Montross Gallery in New York.(9)


1. Davies did not date much of his work, and his widow complicated the issue by misassigning dates retrospectively in Royal Cortissoz, Arthur B. Davies, American Artists Series (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1931), 20-36.

2. Frederic Newlin Price was president of the Ferargil Galleries, which represented Davies after he ended his association with Macbeth Galleries. When he died in 1928, Davies left an estimated two to three thousand drawings. Price gave two to the MWPI, which owns five Davies pastels in all.

3. See Macbeth Galleries Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., microfilm NMc2, frames 335 and 337. The Ferargil Gallery Papers, Archives of American Art, microfilm 1008, frames 1121, 1125, 1127, 1129, 1131-33, 1136-37, and 1319 have photographs of similar nude drawings on toned papers.

4. In another MWPI Davies pastel on brown paper, Study of a Reaching Figure (41.5), the artist added a violet-blue shading that softens the black contour and integrates it with the white medium.

5. This process is reminiscent of Rodin’s practice of having his models move constantly while he worked.

6. Brooks Wright, The Artist and the Unicorn: The Lives of Arthur B. Davie: (1862-1928) (New City, N.Y.: The Historical Society of Rockland Co., 1978), 70, reported that Davies’s primary model from 1914 to 1928 was Wreath Maclntyre Mason. Wright, 43 and 78, further noted that Davies’s longtime mistress, Edna Potter, was a professional dancer who “was of the physical type that is forever associated with his nudes: tall, with well-rounded limbs [and] firm high breasts.”

7. Frank Jewett Mather, ]r., “The Art of Arthur B. Davies," in Arthur B. Davies: The Man and His Art, ed. Duncan Phillips, The Phillips Publications, no. 3 (Washington, D.C.: Phillips Memorial Gallery, 1924), 55-56. See also Wright, The Artist and the Unicorn, 110.

Ellen Berezin, in “Arthur B. Davies: Artist and Connoisseur,” Worcester Art Museum Bulletin 6 (November 1976): 9, suggested the diverse sources for the continuous composition include ancient Roman paintings, the work of Puvis de Chavannes, Isadora Duncan, and the new technology of motion pictures. A review of Phillips’s book in the New York Times Magazine, May 18, 1924, 12, also cited Greek vase painting and Tanagra figurines as sources.

8. Joseph S. Czestochowski, Arthur B. Davies: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Prints (Newark: University ofDelaware Press, 1987), no. 196, illus.

9. Some of the drawings were reproduced in color in “Drawings by Arthur B. Davies,” International Studies 78 (October 1923): 37, 39. The Edward W. Root Papers of the MWPI Archives, RG 1317.17, contain photographs of works from the Montross show, Reclining Dancers and Constellations, that are signed on the verso by Davies.


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