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Jewel-Bearing Tree of Amity

Not on view

Jewel-Bearing Tree of Amity

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

Date: 1912
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
Overall: 18 1/4 x 40 3/8in. (46.4 x 102.6cm)
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 56.5
Text Entries

Jewel-Bearing Tree of Amity was seen for the first time in Thirty Paintings by Thirty Americans at the Macbeth Gallery from November 14. to November 24, 1913.(1) It was the particular focus of attention because Arthur B. Danes had been a key organizer of the Armory Show, the event that had shocked American audiences in February of the same year with its introduction of art by the great innovators of European modernism. In his painting, Davies selected images the capes of the women and the tree trunk encrusted with jewels—to cover with such decorative patterns as facets, lines, and dots painted in bright non-naturalistic colors. Critics were surprised at Davies’s use of modernist conventions.(2) Their assumption that the new turn was the direct result of Davies’s work on the Armory Show seems correct. However, it is difficult to say with certainty when the painting was completed; it is among the many works Davies did not date.(3)

Even though the painting provoked controversy, in subject and mood it remains securely within the Symbolist vein of Davies’s pre-Armory Show work. Females grouped in two sets of three, with a third set suggested by tiny vertical strokes to the far left, move with graceful gestures. The twisted double trunk of the tree reflects the feeling of amity among the figures whose skin tones vary in coloration. However, no clear narrative is told. The women to the right call to mind the three graces in Botticelli’s Primavera of c. 1478 (Uffizi Gallery), and the tree bears a generalized resemblance to those that magically relate to human life in James G. Frazer’s The Golden Bough, an investigation of primitive myth that was a major source of inspiration for Davies. Particularly provocative, Frazer wrote of one tree decked with “strips of coloured cloth and sham bracelets and necklets of plaited straw.”(4) However, in Symbolist fashion, Davies blended and personalized many sources, deliberately defying specific analysis in order to open possibilities for poetic evocation and reverie.

 

Notes

1. Macbeth Gallery Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., reel NMc2, frame 167.

2. Ibid., frames 169-72. Also, Vanity Fair, n.s., vol. 1 (January 1914), p. 40.

3. Two letters at the Archives of American Art (Max Weber Papers, reel N69—83, frame 62, and Walt Kuhn Papers, reel D240, frames 390-91) reveal Davies’s frustration at not being able to work while organizing the Armory Show, a pressure that was complicated by other personal problems. Nevertheless, the Macbeth Gallery’s Art Notes reported in its January 1913 number that “In spite of hard work in connection with the coming exhibition in the Sixty-ninth Armory, Mr. Davies has been able to finish a few canvases now being privately shown here.”

4. James G. Frazer, The Golden Bough (Adonis, Attis, Osiris) (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1914), vol. 1, p. 240.

 

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