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Egg Beater #3

1927–28
Stuart Davis (American, 1892–1964)


Dimensions

63.82 x 99.38 cm (25 1/8 x 39 1/8 in.)

Accession Number

1990.391

Medium or Technique

Oil on canvas

Not On View

Collections

Americas

Classifications

Paintings

In 1927, Stuart Davis secured an electric fan, a rubber glove, and an eggbeater to a table. For a year these objects were his exclusive subject matter. The resulting four paintings, known as the Egg Beater series, retain little resemblance to their source. Instead, Davis created a visual experience that reached beyond the optical appearance of things to create a new space for the eyes and mind to explore. This series confirms Davis’s originality and innovation as a modernist, on par with the most sophisticated and adventurous abstract painters active at the time in Europe and America.
“This eggbeater series,” Davis wrote, “was very important for me because in this period I got away from naturalistic forms. I invented these geometrical elements. What led to it was probably my working on a single still life for a year, not wandering about the streets.” [1] Like a poet operating within the structure and logic of a particular form to achieve greater aesthetic effect, Davis restricted himself to a single contrived still life. “Gradually through this concentration I focused on the logical elements,” he continued. “My aim was not to establish a self-sufficient system to take the place of the immediate and the accidental, but … to strip a subject down to the real physical source of its stimulus.” Through the repeated study of a single motif—an artistic practice most famously employed by Monet in his series of more than thirty paintings of Rouen Cathedral (see, for example, Rouen Cathedral Facade and Tour d’Albane (Morning Effect) [24.6] and Rouen Cathedral, Facade [39.671], both painted in 1894)—Davis distilled the visual essence of the still life down to a few key elements: shapes, colors, and intersecting planes. Particular colors and angular intersections echo across the surface. One shape, two interlocking areas of red and gray seen in the right foreground, is repeated on the left edge of the canvas at smaller scale and with a shift in color to suggest distance.

Davis reassembled these elements in endlessly inventive new compositions, improvising and riffing on a theme in the manner of the jazz musicians he admired. Decades later Davis concluded: “everything I have done since has been based on that eggbeater idea”; [2] and indeed, in Egg Beater #3 one finds early evidence of Davis’s life-long interest in mass-produced everyday objects, bold graphic language, and flattened planes of color. These elements would re-emerge again and again in his work. In some cases, Davis explicitly reinterpreted a specific Egg Beater painting into a new painting. For example, the MFA’s Hot Still-Scape for Six Colors—7th Avenue Style [1983.120] (1940) is closely modeled on the composition of Egg Beater No. 2 (1928, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas).

After a year of working exclusively on one subject, Davis decided it was time to move on. “I had looked at my eggbeater so long that I finally had no interest in it. I stared at it until it became just a combination of planes.” [3] Davis would find new subjects in the streetscapes and architecture of Paris, which he visited for the first time in 1928. The paintings he made there, like the MFA’s Adit, No. 2 [1990.394], portray the city as Davis found it, while incorporating the discoveries of the Egg Beater series.

Notes
1. James Johnson Sweeney, Stuart Davis (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1945), 16, 17.
2. Ibid., 18.
3. Ibid., 20.

Cody Hartley

Inscription

Lower right: STUART DAVIS

Provenance

1928, the artist. By 1951, with Downtown Gallery, New York; 1953, sold by the Downtown Gallery to the William H. Lane Foundation, Leominster, Mass.; 1990, gift of the William H. Lane Foundation to the MFA. (Accession Date: September 18, 1990)

Credit Line

Gift of the William H. Lane Foundation

Copyright

@ The Estate of Stuart Davis / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY