Stuart Davis: The last painting

Stuart Davis, The Whitney Museum
Stuart Davis, Fin, 1964.

Stuart Davis, whose uneven but exhilarating retrospective is on view at the Whitney through September 25, is known for his playful fusion of advertising typography, bright color, and bold abstract shapes and lines. The exhibition begins with work from his early years and ends with his very last painting Fin, an image of which appears at the top of this post. Davis suffered from heart problems and high blood pressure for decades, and according to the wall label:

On June 23, 1964, after watching a French film on television that ended with the word “fin,” which means “the end,” he added the word to the painting on his easel before going to bed. That night he had a stroke and died in the ambulance on the way to New York’s Roosevelt Hospital.

The painting, still crossed with strips of masking tape, is a remarkable key for deciphering Davis’s process. In his most accomplished paintings, pristine and elegant surfaces belie his labor-intensity. Here, though, the slow, careful build-up of shape, line, and color is revealed, making his last canvas all the more instructive for painters.

Stuart Davis: In Full Swing,” co-organized by Barbara Haskell and Harry Cooper, Curator and Head of Modern Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, with Sarah Humphreville, Curatorial Assistant, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Whitney Museum of American Art, West Village, New York, NY. Through September 25, 2016.

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