Stuart Davis has a sure claim to a place in the history of American art. As early as 1932, he was hailed as “the ace of American modernists” and there is scarcely a museum in the United States that doesn’t boast of at least one of his works. Ask for a description of a typical Davis and you are likely to hear about syncopated, brilliantly colored, hard-edged planes, something like the Museum of Modern Art’s Visa (the one with “champion” in large letters) or the Whitney’s Owh! In San Pao (the one with the taxi-yellow background that frequently hangs in the stairwell). They are typical Davises, all right, but they are late paintings and characteristic of only a small part of a career spanning half a century. Surprisingly, given Davis’s fame, most of his long, complex evolution as an artist remains unfamiliar.

Davis first exhibited in 1910....


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