Electric Bulb


Stuart Davis ( American, 1892 - 1964 )

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General Description

In 1923 and 1924, Stuart Davis painted a series of images based on common artifacts of modern life-- an eggbeater, a saw, and in Electric Bulb, a light bulb and its cardboard sleeve. His use of oversized objects, portrayed with hard-edged clarity, foreshadowed what Davis would continue to achieve later in his career. Davis developed and expanded upon a unique analysis of the modern idiom. As noted by former Dallas Museum of Art Director Richard Brettell at the time of its accession into the collection, "Electric Bulb is a painting about power, packaging, and advertising. It makes of the 5 watt bulb a sort of awkward icon of modernity, representing it almost pitilessly against a white ground. The bulb and its folded paper wrapper are "outlined" in black in a manner that owes as much to popular advertising graphics as it does to the modernist geometric abstraction of [Piet] Mondrian or [Fernand] Léger." [1]

Electric Bulb is an expression of the American scene, fragmented and recombined as a vividly colored geometric structure. Davis exaggerated the forms of these industrial objects and colored them brilliantly, creating visual counterparts to the rhythms of the Jazz Age. These works represent a clean break with traditional still-life painting, and Davis later described them as, "a generalization of form in which the subject was conceived as a series of planes and the planes as geometrical shapes... arranged in direct relationship to the canvas as a flat surface." [2] Ordinary objects of modern life became tools for Davis's artistic exploration and would serve as mainstays of his work throughout his career.

[1] Richard R. Brettell to Jerry Allen, 15 November 1988, Correspondence in the DMA collection records object file (1988.59).

[2] James Johnson Sweeney, Stuart Davis, exh. cat. (NY: Museum of Modern Art, 1945), 17.

Adapted from

  • William Keyse Rudolph, DMA label copy (1988.59), July 2005.

  • DMA Acquisition proposal (1988.59), 1988.

Web Resources

  • Stuart Davis, Egg Beater No. 1, 1927
    See the first of Davis's abstract examinations of an egg beater in the Whitney Museum of American Art's collection. (Gift of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, 31.169)

  • Stuart Davis, Apples and Jug, 1923
    Read about Davis's departure from traditional still life painting through the Boston Museum of Fine Arts online collection. (Gift of the William H. Lane Foundation, 1990.390)

  • Stuart Davis, Edison Mazda, 1924
    Check out another Davis painting featuring a light bulb in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection. (Purchase, Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Y. Palitz Gift, in memory of her father, Nathan Dobson, 1982.10)