When Ready-to-Wear was painted in 1955, one of the prevailing artistic styles was Abstract Expressionism. And at first glance, it's easy to see how this painting might be grouped with the works of Pollock or Rothko. But as you look a little closer and learn more about Stuart Davis's intentions, you'll begin to recognize his distinctive modernist style and understand how this painting fit into his artistic agenda of portraying real life in modern America and reflecting the everyday experience.
The title refers to ready-to-wear clothing, a phrase that was introduced in a Montgomery Ward catalogue in 1895 and referred to clothing that was made in factories in standard sizes, as opposed to clothing that was tailored specifically for the wearer. The development of ready-to-wear made store-bought clothing imminently more accessible.
Knowing his inspiration, you can begin to read the the different shapes of color as scraps of fabric on a black table. In the top right, you'll see an 'X' shape that perhaps indicates a pair of scissors. The vibrancy of the colors also contribute to a sense of movement that might represent the energy of the burgeoning fashion industry.
The Art Institute acquired this painting in 1956, just a year after it was painted, from Davis's New York dealer. At the time, Art Institute curator Katharine Kuh wrote about her excitement in adding it to the museum's collection:
[Director] Dan Rich is crazy about the picture and, as you know only too well, I am too. Naturally, we have to put it through our Committee meeting but I foresee only delight on their part.
If you feel similarly, you can vote for this painting on Art Everywhere and it could be chosen to be a part of the largest outdoor art exhibition ever. Click here before May 7 to vote.
Image Credit: Stuart Davis. Ready-to-Wear, 1955. Restricted gift of Mr. and Mrs. Sigmund W. Kunstadter; Goodman Endowment.
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See this painting and the rest of the exhibition on view now in Gallery 134.
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