Arthur Bowen Davies (1862–1928), Figure Study Posted on July 21st, 2014 by

Figure StudyArthur Bowen Davies (1862–1928)
Figure Study, undated
Oil on wood panel, 11 x 8 inches
Gift of the Reverend Richard L. Hillstrom

Davies studied at both the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, in his early 20s, then, from 1886 to 1888, at the Art Students League in New York City. Although he was a member of The Eight, his work is very different in conception. In his youth he saw works by artists such as George Inness (1825–1894) and Homer Dodge Martin (1836–1897) and the aesthetic of those artists and others of the Tonalist School in America had an important impact on Davies’s own work. Tonalism is characterized by soft and diffused lights, objects with hazy outlines, and a strong sense of mood. Inness stated the Tonalist idea that art was not for the purpose of instructing, “but to awaken an emotion.” Such an attitude, although it informs much of Davies’s work, seems in direct contrast to the philosophy of The Eight and their demand for art that considers the physically present reality of life. Davies, also paradoxically, was, in his role as the president of the recently formed American Association of Painters and Sculptors, a key player in organizing the Armory Show of 1913, the New York exhibition that marked a turning point in the history of American art through its introduction of European Modernism to an American audience. This subtly colored study of a nude female from the back may have been a study for a larger painting, but it is typical of Davies in its elimination of extraneous detail and its suggestive rather than literal manner of indicating form. The painting was, along with the oil by Everett Shinn (1876–1953), the last of the works by The Eight acquired by Reverend Hillstrom, in 1961. It had been in the estate of the artist.

Text from the catalogue for the exhibition The Eight, The Ashcan School, and The American Scene in the Hillstrom Collection, presented in the Hillstrom Museum of Art February 25 through April 21, 2013.


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