We Jazz June

In honor of the DC Jazz Festival and our own Jazz ‘n Families Fun Days this weekend, here are some works in the collection to get your toes tapping, all of which relate to jazz. Can you see it?

collection music

Clockwise from top left: Gene Davis, Jasmine Jumper, 1966, Acrylic on canvas 119 1/2 x 161 1/2 in.; 303.53 x 410.21 cm.. Gift of Florence Coulson Davis In Memory of Gene Davis, 1992. Stuart Davis, Egg Beater No. 4, 1928, Oil on canvas 27 1/8 x 38 1/4 in.; 68.8975 x 97.155 cm.. Acquired 1939. Elizabeth Murray, Jazz, 2001, 3-dimensional lithograph, Edition 7 of 46 overall: 30 in x 34 in x 4 in; 76.2 cm x 86.36 cm x 10.2 cm. Purchased with funds from the estate of Nathan and Jeanette Miller, 2007. Arthur G., Dove, Me and the Moon, 1937, Wax emulsion on canvas 18 x 26 in.; 45.72 x 66.04 cm.. Acquired 1939. The Phillips Collection, Washington DC.

Gene Davis said, in a 1975 interview, “My work is mainly about intervals, that is, like in music. Music is essentially time interval, and I’m interested in space interval.”  He was also known to say that he painted “by eye” the way a jazz musician plays “by ear”. Stuart Davis collected jazz records that he played while he worked, replaying them much as he repeated visual elements in his paintings. His daily calendars chronicle purchases of new albums and when he played them. Elizabeth Murray captures the vibrant sound and broken branches of jazz improvisation in her colorful print, Jazz (2001). And Arthur Dove’s Me and the Moon (1937) is named after the 1936 song which he heard on the radio while he worked.

What visual art makes you think of jazz?

Take Your Sketchbook

Milton Avery, Shells and Fishermen, 1941, Oil on canvas 24 x 36 1/8 in.; 60.96 x 91.7575 cm. Acquired 1943. The Phillips Collection, Washington DC

Milton Avery gathered lots of ideas for his paintings during summer travels chiefly in New England, but also in California, Mexico, and Europe, sketching them and then bringing them back for work in the studio. So when you’re packing for that Memorial Day getaway, be sure to throw in your sketchbook and a few pencils.

This work is currently on view in the Made in the USA exhibition.

The Many (Feathered?) Caps of Walt Kuhn

I intended to follow up on our post about Plumes (1931) with another about Walt Kuhn’s works of women wearing tall hats and headdresses, of which there are quite a few. But as I started reading more about his life, I found that there is so much else to talk about when we talk about Walt Kuhn. Not only was he a chief organizer and chronicler of the 1913 Armory Show, and a spirited illustrator (as evidenced in his Christmas cards), but, perhaps not surprisingly, he tried to make a go at a theater career. A boyhood job delivering costumes backstage sparked his interest in the theatrical world, and in the 1910s and early ’20s, he was known for his flair with productions. Kuhn produced dramatic parties and masquerade balls for artists’ organizations such as the Kit Kat Club and the Penguin Club, as well as staged one-act plays with the likes of Robert Benchley and Dorothy Parker. He even designed scenes for early stage pieces of Busby Berkeley. In 1923, disheartened by the low (and sometimes non-existent), pay of his theatrical efforts, Kuhn turned his full attention to painting.

For me, a fan of train travel, one of the most interesting branches of Kuhn’s creative career was his design for two Union Pacific Streamliner rail cars. “Little Nugget” was a first class club car designed for a passenger train called “City of Los Angeles”. The interior was meant to evoke an Old West-style saloon with rococo flourishes and also included many of Kuhn’s images of vaudeville clowns and performers. The “Frontier Shack” lounge car for the “City of Denver” train embodied a very different, but equally American, style of the frontier cabin; a woodsy setting replete with wanted posters and hanging lanterns.

Kuhn’s club car for “City of Los Angeles” passenger train, “Little Nugget”. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Kuhn’s “Frontier Shack” lounge car of the Union Pacific “City of Denver” passenger train. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

To learn more about Walt Kuhn and see digitized archival materials related to the projects described above, see the Archives of American Art’s rich holdings on this artist.