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A Closer Look: William R. Davis

October 26, 2009

William Davis

As part of the exhibition “Backgrounds & Foregrounds” Quidley & Company is pleased to present an online catalog, which explores the backgrounds of these outstanding New England landscape painters.  For this show, the blog will host three separate posts in the ‘A Closer Look’ series, one on each artist William Davis, William Duffy, and TM Nicholas.

William Davis - Afternoon Sail Nantucket Harbor

William Davis - Afternoon Sail Nantucket

Read how William Davis realized a deep bond with 19th Century American painters that has led him to a unique painting style and a reputation as one of the country’s top marine painters.

William Davis has spent his life on Cape Cod, and unavoidably has been surrounded and inspired by life on the sea.  He is truly inspired by the natural beauty of his native Cape Cod’s pristine coastlines, and more recently he has taken to the forests and mountains of northern New England.

Martin Johnson Heade - Becalmed Long Island Sound

Martin Johnson Heade - Becalmed Long Island Sound

His paintings show a deep admiration for and influence from the 19th century American painters he collected as a dealer.  Davis had always been drawing and painting, but once he spent extended time with the works of these masters in the late 1970’s, he began seriously painting every evening after work.  Davis started selling his paintings to Cape Cod locals in 1978, and by 1983 he had made the switch to painting full-time.

Fishermen Off Highland Light - William Davis - 24x48

Fishermen Off Highland Light - William Davis - 24x48

His marine paintings developed out of local scenes, and the rich maritime history of Cape Cod.  Being so heavily influenced by early American painting, there is a deliberate naiveté in his paintings that relate them to early folk art.  Davis also took cues from James Bard and Antonio Jacobson, particularly in their use of line and composition.

Antonio Jacobsen - Steamship Benjamin Franklin - 1905

Antonio Jacobsen - Steamship Benjamin Franklin - 1905

As Davis progressed in his work, he took inspiration from those who painted the very same beaches and ports one hundred and fifty years earlier, specifically Fitz Henry Lane and luminist Martin Johnson Heade.

A self-taught artist, Davis has looked to history for inspiration and for instruction.  He describes his style as “A conglomerate of a number of ideas I saw in other artists with my own refinements”. Over the years, he has incorporated his fascinations for the different techniques of these artists.

“The most original painters are those who have stolen here a little and there a little from everyone. When they arrive at the levels of the masters, they will find they can do so much better work themselves that they can’t help being original”. – William Merritt Chase

Over the last ten years or so, Davis has included landscape to his repertoire.  Painting plein air in the virgin forests and majestic mountain vistas of New England, Davis feels a great affinity with the Hudson River School artists.  The Hudson River School painters were inspired by these very same scenes in nature.  They tried to capture the sublime ruggedness of the area, expressing in paint a concept that the American Landscape was a direct manifestation of God.

William Davis - Marshview towards Mt Willard - 10 x 8

William Davis - Marsh View Towards Mt Willard - 10 x 8

William Davis’s interest in painting landscapes is partially attributable to his friendship with fellow artists Donald Demers and Joe McGurl.  On painting trips into the mountains, Davis likens his experience to that of the painting friendship of John Frederick Kensett and Jasper Frances Cropsey.  These two Hudson River School painters would trek deep into the woods up uncharted mountains to find the best views, making sketches and watercolors to reference back in the studio.

John F. Kensett - Lake George - 1869

John F. Kensett - Lake George - 1869

The exploratory trips are very much the same today as they were in Kensett’s time, two men discussing ideas of nature and of art, with no distractions, the same views undisturbed by man, an opportunity to really connect with nature.

William R. Davis finds inspiration for his landscape painting by thoroughly immersing himself in the pristine landscapes of New England.  Here Davis finds a sense of peace and oneness that is otherwise unattainable.

Today, his paintings show a deep admiration for and influence from these early American masters.  Davis has developed a unique style that continues this artistic lineage.  His marine and landscape paintings evoke the timeless quality of the masters who preceded him.

View available paintings by William Davis

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