Davies was briefly captivated by the fragmented forms and transparent planes of cubism. Many of his admirers preferred his depictions of ethereal maidens in imaginary landscapes; one pronounced these dancing harlequinade figures “garish as a tartan, and as stimulating.” Like many of his contemporaries, Davies was a great appreciator of the “gesture” of the dance, ranging from the interpretations of Isadora Duncan and the fiery spirit of the Duncan Girls, who formed a popular group at the time, to the subtle movements of Ruth St. Denis, who was famous for her sensuous performances.

This painting was part of a mural project conceived by artists Walt Kuhn (1880–1949), Arthur Davies, and Maurice Prendergast in 1914. The three painters executed a set of four large canvases, which they exhibited in the spring of 1915 in New York City. John Quinn, one of America’s foremost collectors of European avant-garde art and a great admirer of the work of these Americans, purchased all four: Prendergast’s Promenade (DIA acc. no. 27.159) and its companion piece, Picnic (now in the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh); Kuhn’s Man and Sea Beach (now lost); and this work.
Artist Arthur Bowen Davies, American, 1862-1928
Title
  • Dances
Date 1914 or 1915
Medium oil on canvas
Dimensions Unframed: 84 × 138 inches (213.4 cm × 3 m 50.5 cm)
Framed: 87 1/16 × 142 3/8 × 1 3/8 inches (221.1 cm × 3 m 61.6 cm × 3.5 cm)
Credit Line Gift of Ralph Harman Booth
Accession Number 27.158
Department American Art before 1950
Not On View
Signed Signed, at lower left: A. B. Davies
A. B. Davies.
1915, John Quinn (New York, New York, USA) [conflicting views say it was commissoned and purchased from the artist or purchased from Montross Gallery].
American Art Association (New York, New York, USA);
February 10, 1927, Ralph Booth;
February 27, 1927-present, gift to the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)
Art News 13 (April 3, 1915): p. 3.

Britton, James. "Gallery News (exact title unknown)." American Art News (May 8, 1915).

"Montross Sells Moderns." Art News 13, 31 (May 8, 1915).

"The 'Very Latest' at Montross Gallery." Art News (March 27, 1915).

Quinn Collection Sale. Sales cat., American Art Association. New York, February 10, 1927, no. 376 (ill.).[listed as Dancers]

Richardson, E. P. Twentieth Century Painting. TWENTIETH CENTURY PAINTING. Detroit, 1945, pp. 38-39, 48.

Cummings, Frederick J. and Charles H. Elam, eds. The Detroit Institute of Arts Illustrated Handbook. Detroit, 1971, p. 149.

Berezin, Ellen. "Arthur B. Davies [exact title unknown]." Worcester Art museum Bulletin 6, 1 (November 1976): pp. 10-11 (ill.).

Zilczer, Judith. The Noble Buyer: John Quinn, Patron of the Avant-Garde. Exh. cat., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Washington, D.C., 1978, p. 81, no. 10.

Rivard, Nancy. "American Paintings at the Detroit Institute of Arts." Antiques 114 (November 1978): p. 1054.

Nawrocki, Dennis A. "Prendergast and Davies: Two Approaches to a Mural Project." Bulletin of the DIA 56, 4 (1978): pp. 243-245 (fig. 2).

Henshaw, Julia P., ed. The Detroit Institute of Arts: A Visitor’s Guide. Detroit, 1995, p. 90 (ill.).

Schaefer, Barbara and Anita Hachmann, ed. Es War Einmal in Amerkika: 300 Jahre US-Amerikanische Kunst. Exh. cat., Wallraf das Museum. Cologne, 2018, p. 178 (ill. no. 17).