Escaping Reality with Arthur B. Davies

Arthur B. Davies  c. 1895 oil on canvas
Arthur B. Davies (1862-1928) Rites of Spring, c. 1895 oil on canvas

The Forsyth Galleries is home to paintings by each member of The Eight, a group of artists that gained national attention after a successful exhibition at Macbeth Galleries, New York in 1908.  These artists, which included Arthur B. Davies, Robert Henri, Everett Shinn, William Glackens, Ernest Lawson, George Luks, Maurice Prendergast, and John Sloan, were a part of a movement that is now referred to as Americanism.  Most of the artists painted in different styles, however their subject matter all revolved around that of a common world.  They depicted a non-idealized urban life, the poor, immigrants, leisure, entertainment, and landscapes.  Arthur B. Davies focused mainly on landscapes and his piece Rites of Spring, showcases a Symbolist approach to landscape paintings.

Davies trained at several schools, but it was at the Art Students League in New York where he began his journey in painting landscapes.  Initially, he painted in the conventional style of the American Hudson River School.  However, it wasn’t long until he found his own path into the Symbolist world.  The Symbolist movement began by rejecting the ideas of Naturalism.  Instead of portraying the world in a scientific manner, Symbolist painters focus on the emotion of the piece and their aim was to evoke a feeling.  Davies combined influences from the European Symbolist movement with Greek and Roman iconography to create a modernist style with ethereal qualities.

In Rites of Spring, Davies uses soft brushstrokes and pastel colors that together create a fragile feeling.  It almost seems as if a gust of wind would make the image disappear.  The woman depicted in the center has a very delicate pose and appears to be floating in the foreground.  She seems to have wings and could easily be interpreted as an angel, in which case the fragility of the piece creates the feeling that you are viewing a special moment that could easily dissipate.  This differs from the previous movement of American landscape artists, who were more focused on a realistic portrayal of natural elements.

The Eight, and similarly the Symbolist movement, did not necessarily share aesthetic characteristics as most of them painted in varying styles.  However, they all shared a similar distaste for society.  While other members of The Eight chose to try to present the reality of modern urban life, Davies and the Symbolists tried to escape reality by creating their own dream worlds within each piece. Rites of Spring is on display at the Forsyth Galleries in the Memorial Student Center at Texas A&M University through December 13, 2015.

Written by Taylor Wilson

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