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Strong Demand Lifts Prices for Stuart Davis’s Modernist Artworks

Amid the rising market for American modernist work in recent years, Manhattan gallery owner Hollis Taggart says works by Stuart Davis (1892–1964) in particular “are in very strong demand.”

NEW YORK—Amid the rising market for American modernist work in recent years, Manhattan gallery owner Hollis Taggart says works by Stuart Davis (1892–1964) in particular “are in very strong demand.”

Taggart calls Davis “an innovator.” Like many other American artists of his time, Davis grappled with modernist influences from Europe, especially France, but unlike a number of his contemporaries, he was able to successfully integrate Cubist design with American imagery in his work.

The Hollis Taggart Galleries, New York, held an exhibition from November of last year through last January of 67 works on paper (mostly drawings in graphite and pen and ink) from the artist’s estate, priced between $15,000 and $400,000. Half of the pieces on view were sold. “The show did very well,” Taggart said. The prices ranged widely depending on when the drawings were created—those made in the late 1920s and the ’30s are the most sought after—their size, their subject matter and whether they were studies for major oil paintings. Among the buyers from the show was the Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Va., which acquired Study for Cigarettes.

Hollis Taggart does not represent the artist’s estate, but has been working with Earl Davis, his son, who is the executor, since early last year. (The estate had been represented by the New York–based Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, which filed for bankruptcy last November in the wake of numerous lawsuits, some of which involve paintings still in the Davis estate [ANL, 9/18/07].) No future exhibitions are planned, but Taggart says the gallery will continue to work with Earl Davis.

Taggart told ARTnewsletter that he has yet to examine the entire contents of the estate, but he estimates that there are many more works on paper than paintings and that the total holdings are not substantial, even though Davis was highly prolific. “He was painting on the day before he died,” Taggart noted. He said that prices for oil paintings also range widely, from $100,000 up to $8 million/10 million. The gallery also handles paintings and works on paper by the artist on the secondary market, where prices and demand have been strong.

Davis’s work has come up regularly at public sales, often yielding solid prices. The top auction price to date is $4.5 million, paid at Sotheby’s in November 2005 for the oil Rue de l’échaudé, 1928, to which the auction house had assigned an estimate of $1 million/1.5 million. Other top prices include $3.2 million (estimate: $2 million/3 million) for the oil Still Life with Flowers, 1930, paid at Christie’s in December 2005, and $2.8 million for the 1910 oil The Music Hall at Sotheby’s last May (estimate: $500,000/700,000).

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