Stuart Davis, an early American modernist painter, was born on December 7, 1892 in Philadelphia. Davis was the son of artist parents who both studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. His mother was sculptor Helen Stuart Foulke Davis, and father was Edward Davis, art editor for the Philadelphia Press.
From 1910 to 1913 Stuart Davis received formal art training under Robert Henri, artistic father of The Eight. Henri worked in a realist vein, however he rejected academic idealism. He urged his students to observe and sketch city life as experienced on the streets, in music halls, taverns, and other locations. Davis lived in Newark, New Jersey during his studies, frequenting dive bars and developing a passion for the technical precision and expressive spontaneity of jazz.
In 1913, Davis was among the youngest participants in the seminal Armory Show (International Exhibition of Modern Art), where he contributed five watercolors. The show was organized by a group of artists attempting to introduce Americans to new developments in art across the Atlantic and at home. Inspired by the bold use of color displayed by European modernists, particularly Matisse, van Gogh, and Gaughuin, Stuart Davis dedicated the next several years to becoming a modern artist.
By the early 1920s, Davis left behind the representational realism of his early career, applying his formal concepts to subject matter ranging from still lives to landscapes, commercial imagery, and other aspects of urban life. Stuart Davis was best known for his jazz influenced proto-pop art paintings of the 1940s and 1950s, and his ashcan pictures in the early years of the 20th century.
His work was the subject of retrospectives at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1945, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 1957, and a wide variety of group exhibitions that focused on modern or abstract art. He was represented by Edith Gregor Halpert at the Downtown Gallery in New York City.
Stuart Davis died of a stroke on June 24, 1964 in New York, at the age of 71.