An abstract painter’s lonely, melancholy city

Greenwich Village resident Stuart Davis, who died in 1964, is best known as an artist who embraced the 20th century’s abstract styles, depicting modernist and cubist still lifes and landscapes with intense color.

Tenement Scene

[Above, “Tenement Scene,” 1912]

Yet in the early years of the 20th century, he started out as a student of Robert Henri.

Henri was a social realist painter who was a prominent member of the Ashcan School, a loose-knit group of artists who preferred to show the darker side of urban life. [Below, “Chinatown,” 1912]


Henri’s influence can be seen in some of Davis’ melancholy, realist paintings of city streets and buildings and the people who inhabit them, painted when he was only 20 years old. [Below, “Bleecker Street,” 1912]


Like other Ashcan artists, Davis showed his work at the famous 1913 Armory Show, which brought avant-garde art to American audiences.

“In the following years Davis abandoned his Ashcan realist style and experimented with a variety of modern European styles, including Post-Impressionism and Cubism,” states the website for the Museum of Modern Art.


Stuartdavis1940His later abstract paintings (such as Jefferson Market, from 1930, above) have been described as jazz-influenced precursors to Pop Art.

They certainly have their merits, but there’s something about these moody scenes from the New York of 1912 that capture the city’s humanity.

[Right: Davis in 1940]

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7 Responses to “An abstract painter’s lonely, melancholy city”

  1. Walk About New York Says:

    The figure in Stuart Davis’ “Tenement Scene” has quite an amusing expression. John French Sloan was also an Ashcan artist. He was one of the Arch Conspirators; they broke into the Washington Arch. The story of this trespassing is recounted at the start of our Greenwich Village Walking Tour (

  2. William Krause Says:

    Thank you for the informative (& apparently well-researched) art tour of Stuart Davis’ Greenwich Village experience. His depictions recalled my own Village memories—and the feelings that still linger.
    Further, and respectful of your judgement, what is your reaction to Cooper Union’s new academic building, located near its old one at Cooper Square? I’ve only seen a photo of it, a view showing the gap in its façade—and an interior pic with complementary vacancy.
    The new building’s appearance disappointed me; is that what could be termed Brutalist architecture? (At least I think so.)
    Your opinion (& that of other interested persons) may certainly add some perspective to mine. I’ve often been wrong.

  3. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    I don’t like the new Cooper Union building. But more specifically, I don’t like it there, at the smaller-scale crossroads linking the Bowery to the East Village. To me, it’s distracting and impenetrable, which is not what you want for an academic building, where thoughts and ideas are supposed to be encouraged and shared. I’m not sure if it’s Brutalist, but it is brutal.

  4. trilby1895 Says:

    “Brutalist” describes the look perfectly. But I may be biased as I dislike nearly all “modern” architecture, especially when it defiles the unique Greenwich Village (East as well as West) aesthetic.

  5. kevin L bazur Says:

    I too dislike the new Cooper Union. It looks like a big hunk of tin in the middle of some beautiful buildings built with stone and brick. Just because a building is abstract does not make it unique or pleasing to the eye. I also dislike most modern architecture. No one comes to New York to gaze at Bank of America building across from Bryant park or to gaze at any other crappy new buildings. They have no soul, no light.

    • trilby1895 Says:

      Exactly! Extremely well put. In most cases and in my opinion, modern “architecture” is a blight on New York City’s otherwise-magnificent landscape and doesn’t deserve to be considered as “architecture”.

  6. More About 918 Says:

    More About 918

    An abstract painter’s lonely, melancholy city | Ephemeral New York

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