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Arthur Bowen Davies Edit Profile


Arthur Bowen Davies was an avant-garde American artist and influential advocate of modern art in the United States c. 1910–1928.


Arthur B. Davies was born in Utica, N. Y. , on September 26, 1862. He was sketching and painting scenes of the Mohawk Valley before he was 16, when his family moved to Chicago.


He studied at the Art Institute there, worked for the board of trade, and went on an engineering expedition to Mexico. In 1887 he went to New York City and studied at the Art Students League, where Robert Henri and George Luks became his friends.


Davies's earliest professional work (1888-1891) was magazine illustration. He moved to a farm near Congers, N. Y. ; soon afterward he competed unsuccessfully for the mural decorations of the Appellate Court in New York City. In 1894 the New York art dealer William Macbeth provided him with a studio over his gallery, gave him a one-man show, and introduced him to industrialist Benjamin Altman, who provided funds for his first trip abroad.

By 1900 Davies had found his characteristic theme: the female nude in a landscape setting, romantic, nostalgic, frequently with a mysterious ritualistic quality. The figures, small in scale, are often arranged in a friezelike procession against dark and forbidding backgrounds. The mood is poetic, with a peculiarly personal symbolism that is suggested by mythological themes or by obscure symbolic titles. A new grandeur was introduced in his work as the result of a trip to California in 1905 during which he made studies of mountains.

Davies was one of "The Eight" whose 1908 exhibition at the Macbeth Gallery challenged the authority and conservatism of the National Academy of Design. Five of the exhibiting artists stressed urban realism in subject matter; Davies and Maurice Prendergast established notes of fantasy and charm which were wholly personal. Davies was a master of many media—oil, watercolor, pastel, lithograph, etching, sculpture, murals, and tapestry designs.

The Armory Show of 1913 first introduced American artists and the American public to the European pioneers of 20th-century style. Davies's work for a period reflected a new cubist influence but returned eventually to the idyllic fantasies that were his natural language.

Davies attracted devoted admirers and was generous in his admiration of progressive artists. During the 1920s he executed a series of murals and designed tapestries. He also became obsessed with the act of inhalation and believed that the character and quality of Greek art was due to the fact that it represented figures consciously controlling their breathing. It has even been said that his personal experiments in breathing led to his heart attack in 1923. After that he went again to Europe, where he painted a series of romantic landscapes in northern Italy. He died in Florence, alone in his studio, on October 24, 1928.


  • American painter Arthur Bowen Davies ntroduced a contemporary quality in a basically romantic style and was a pioneer in bringing American art into the mainstream of progressive Western painting.



From 1912 to 1914 Davies was president of the Society of Independent Artists.


Davies was a habitual recluse and worked in considerable secrecy. He would rarely invite anyone to his studio and, later in life, would go out of his way to avoid old friends and acquaintances. The reason for Davies' reticence became known after his sudden death while vacationing in Italy in 1928: he had two wives

He also became obsessed with the act of inhalation.


  • Artists

    In Europe he was impressed by the Venetians and by Delacroix, Puvis de Chavannes, and Whistler.


In 1892, Davies married Virginia Meriwether, one of New York State's first female physicians. Her family, suspecting that their daughter might end by being the sole breadwinner of the family if she was to marry an impoverished artist, insisted that the bridegroom sign a prenuptial agreement, renouncing any claim on his wife's money in the event of divorce. (Davies would eventually become very wealthy through the sale of his paintings, though his prospects at thirty did not look enccouraging. ) Appearances notwithstanding, they were anything but a conventional couple, even aside from the fact that Davies was of a philandering nature. Virginia had eloped when she was young and had murdered her husband on her honeymoon when she discovered that he was an abusive drug addict and compulsive gambler, a fact that she and her family kept from Davies.

He had two wives (one legal, one common-law) and children by each of them, a secret kept from Virginia for twenty-five years. With Virginia, he had two sons, Niles and Arthur.

David and Phoebe Davies

Lucy Virginia Meriwether Davis Davies

(April 18, 1862 - April 17, 1949)