Arthur B. Davies
Welcome, ca. 1910s
"The paintings [of Arthur B. Davies] lead one away entirely into the land of legend, into the iridescent splendor of reflection. . . . Often you have the sensation of looking through a Renaissance window upon a Greek world – a world of Platonic verities in calm relation with each other."
--Marsden Hartley (1)
Welcome reflects the distinguishing Arcadian vision and symbolist impulses of Arthur B. Davies. His scene of youth cavorting in an idealized sylvan setting is part balletic choreography, part dreamy idyll. It attempts to emphasize humankind’s accord with nature, an ideal that lay at the heart of the symbolist movement from the 1880s until the early twentieth century. The unsettling pace of industrialization and its disruption of cultural norms fostered in many a nostalgic yearning for a more peaceful, bucolic world. Inspired by such artistic precursors as Pierre Puvis de Chavannes and Ferdinand Hodler and in step with contemporaries such as Maurice Prendergast and Odilon Redon, Davies conjured an image of carefree abandon disconnected from early-twentieth-century realities. The influences of Paul Cézanne’s Bathers series, painted from the mid-1870s onward, and of the Fauves – the group of artists led by Henri Matisse in the early 1900s – are also evident in the Ulrich’s canvas. An admirer of the modern-dance pioneer Isadora Duncan, Davies evokes her naturalistic gestures in the swaying motion of the figures in Welcome.
Davies belonged to a circle of painters known as The Eight (including William J. Glackens, Robert Henri, Ernest Lawson, George Luks, Maurice Prendergast, Everett Shinn, and John Sloan), who collectively pursued artistic models outside the academic norm. The group formed when the conservative National Academy of Design refused to display works by Glackens, Henri, Luks, and Sloan; in 1908, Davies organized an independent show of canvases by The Eight at New York’s Macbeth Gallery. Five years later, he led the organization of the 1913 Armory Show, a massive exhibition of modern art. This landmark presentation signaled a turning point for the American art world, which now confidently began embracing and promoting modernism.
Davies was a trusted advisor to the art collectors and Museum of Modern Art co-founders Lillie Bliss, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, and Mary Quinn Sullivan. A. Conger Goodyear, the museum’s first president, acknowledged Davies’s instrumental role in its conception.2 Although his own work was not at the radical forefront of his time, Davies championed experimentation and innovation. His lyrical paintings, political skills, and open mind won him hearty praise from critics, collectors, and fellow artists alike.