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Egg Beater No. 2

Not on view

Egg Beater No. 2

Artist: Stuart Davis (American, 1894 - 1964)

Date: 1928
Medium: Gouache on board
Dimensions:
Overall: 14 1/2 x 18in. (36.8 x 45.7cm)
Signed: u.r.: 'Stuart Davis'
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 54.3
Label Text
In 1927 Stuart Davis created a still life arrangement with the unlikely combination of a rubber glove, an electric fan, and an eggbeater. Inspired by Cubism, he experimented on compositions for a year to arrive at a wholly mature and individual style. Davis consistently grounded his compositions in observed objects, but he abstracted them (often to the point they were no longer recognizable) to create artistic compositions governed by color, form, planes, and line.

“The type of subject I am now interested in representing is characterized by simple, geometrical solids. That many of the younger artists are similarly interested in various ways probably indicates that this type of form has greater contemporary aesthetic utility than other types.”

Stuart Davis, 1927




Mary E. Murray
Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art
2017

Text Entries

Stuart Davis painted a series of pictures he called “Eggbeaters,” which were the first truly abstract paintings to be made in America in nearly a decade. The series is not only a landmark in the history of American abstract art, but it also represents the culmination of Davis’s efforts during the 1920s to make a mature modernist statement using the vocabulary of Synthetic Cubism.

The “Eggbeater” series consists of four oil paintings, Eggbeaters Nos. 1-4, and with each there is associated a smaller gouache version and a graphite drawing prepared with a grid. The dating and numbering of works in the series have been confused by contradictory inscriptions and statements by the artist, but titles and dates inscribed on the preparatory drawings by the artist himself — by all appearances at the time of the completion of the studies- permit a confident restoration of the original numbering system to the paintings.(1) All works in the series were executed during 1927 and early 1928. The Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute Museum of Art’s “Eggbeater” is the gouache version of what has heretofore been referred to in the Davis literature as Eggbeater No. 4, but now may be definitively called Eggbeater No. 2 of 1928 (Mr. and Mrs. James A. Fisher, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania).(2)

Davis said that in 1927 he had nailed an eggbeater, a rubber glove, and an electric fan to a tabletop in his studio and focused on this subject matter for a year. Doing so, he said, enabled him to concentrate on handling the elements of pictorial construction in a logical manner so that he might transcend the associational properties of the subject matter.(3) In point of fact, it is virtually impossible to identify the original subjects in any of the “Eggbeaters.” The artist wrote about these paintings:

In the first place my purpose is to make Realistic pictures. I insist upon this definition in spite of the fact that the type of work I am now doing is generally spoken of as Abstraction. The distinction is important in that it may lead people to realize that they are to look at what is there instead of hunting for symbolic suggestions. A picture is always a three-dimensional illusion regardless of subject matter. That is to say that the most illusionistic types of painting and modern so-called abstractions are identical in that they both represent an illusion of the three- dimensional space of our experience. They dififer in subject which means that they choose a different character of space to represent.(4)

In Eggbeater No. 2 Davis has located abstracted geometric forms in an interior architectural space. The gouache and the oil versions have quite distinct personalities in that the artist has employed stronger colors and light and shade contrasts in the former (for instance: the plane that describes the rear wall of the interior space in the gouache is black and in the oil it is lime green; the wall on the left in the gouache is orange and in the oil it is lavender). Also, the illumination of the space and the forms is entirely different in character, being clear, cool nocturnal light in the gouache, while the oil is subjected to strong, bleaching daylight.

Beginning in the 1940s, Davis returned to earlier compositions as the sources for new pictures, and Eggbeater No. 2 provided the composition for Hot Still-scape for 6 Colors— 7th Avenue Style of 1940 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and William H. Lane Foundation). This painting, in which the architectural space and abstracted still-life forms of Eggbeater No. 2 are used again, combined with hot, vibrant colors and a proliferation of energized decorative forms—emblematic of the New York urban scene- and brilliant blues and whites —representative of the water and sky of the New England coast—is another of the artist’s most notable works.

 

Notes

1. Telephone conversation with William C. Agee, director of the Stuart Davis catalog raisonné pro- ject, September 22, 1986.

2. The Fisher painting is an oil on canvas, 29¼X36¼ in. The information on the Downtown Gallery label attached to the verso of the Utica gouache does identify it as Eggbeater No. 2, but the 1927 date on this label cannot be considered reliable. It antedates by nearly twenty years the making of the work of art in that the address on the label is 32 East 51st Street, New York, a location to which dealer Edith Gregor Halpert did not move the gallery until the mid-1940s. It was probably attached on the occasion of the gallery’s Stuart Davis Retrospective, held January 29—February 16, 1946, at which time all the gouache versions of all the “Egg-beaters” were shown. Moreover, the inscription on the preparatory drawing for the Utica work, dated “January 8-10, 1928” (Estate of Stuart Davis), strongly suggests 1928 as the date for the gouache as well. In referring to the medium of the small versions of the “Eggbeaters,” Davis used the terms “gouache” and “tempera” interchangeably.

3. Stuart Davis, Stuart Davis (New York: American Artists Group, 1945), unpaged.

4. Stuart Davis to Edith Halpert, August 11, 1927, Edith Gregor Halpert Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

 

Copyright
Presumed copyright: the artist or the artist's representative/heir(s) / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.