Egg Beater No. 4
Stuart Davis, 1928
Oil on Canvas, 27 1/8" x 38 1/4", The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.
In 1927, Davis nailed an eggbeater, a rubber glove, and an electric fan to a table in his studio. This unexpected combination of modern appliances reminiscent of the Dada appreciation for absurd juxtapositions became the sole focus of Davis's craft for a year. Egg Beater, No. 4 is the last in the series of four remarkably different compositions depicting the same still-life and is often described as his first truly abstract painting.
Choosing to focus on unrelated objects enabled the artist to disengage with their utilitarian functions and focus on relationships between color, shapes, and space. "My aim," Davis wrote, "was... to strip a subject down to the real physical source of its stimulus." In No. 4, objects are completely disassembled and distilled into basic shapes and planes so that their forms become virtually unrecognizable. Overlapping planes and jolting colors call to mind the improvisation and rhythm of jazz music. Contrary to earlier paintings in the series, wherein the arrangement of shapes and planes suggests a depth of space, in this final work, space is ambiguous. Here, Davis offers a more cerebral approach to still-life painting - one that engages the intellect rather than the senses.
The artist never considered himself a pure abstractionist, and shortly after completing this series he began reincorporating signs, text, and recognizable urban landmarks into his work. Still, he insisted that the Egg Beater series represented a breakthrough in his artistic development. He later recalled that it "enabled me to realize certain structural principals [sic] that I have continued to use ever since." The Art Story