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100 Highlights
of the MFAH
Take a tour through some of the most significant objects in the MFAH collections. On these pages, you can browse 100 highlights from collections throughout the institution. Then visit the Museum in person to discover your own favorites.
© Estate of Stuart Davis / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
American, 1892 - 1964
Gloucester Harbor
Oil on canvas, mounted on panel

23 1/16 x 30 1/8 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Museum purchase with funds provided by
the Agnes Cullen Arnold Endowment Fund

Arts of North America

Stuart Davis fragments the elements that make up this harbor scene in Massachusetts—sea, boats, piers, buoys, tackle, and flag—and represents them with patterns of bright color arranged to convey a lively rhythm. In fact, Davis conceived of compositions such as this one in terms of the staccato pulse of American jazz.

Over a career spanning more than half a century, Davis uniquely combined Cubist syntax with the ambience of American life, providing a bridge between the first generation of American Modernists and the later Abstract Expressionists. A student of Realist painter Robert Henri, Davis participated in the landmark 1913 Armory Show (International Exhibition of Modern Art) in New York and was inspired by the display of European avant-garde art. Davis’s assimilation of Modernist techniques in general, and of Cubism in particular, was strongly colored by his avocation of Realism.

Here, the flat, patterned forms reduce spatial relationships and contradict illusionism. At the same time, Davis maintains a real sense of the bustle and life of a busy harbor. Gloucester Harbor was executed during Davis’s tenure in the Works Progress Administration program as a government-supported artist. It was featured in the exhibition of contemporary American art sponsored by the WPA at the New York World’s Fair in 1939.