William M. Davis

Artist Biography

Port Jefferson’s Prominent Painter

By Kathryn Williams

Long Island local William Moore Davis took New York by storm by creating important genre, landscape, and trompe l’oeil still life paintings.

I. Biography
II. Chronology
III. Collections
IV. Exhibitions
V. Memberships
VI. Notes
VII. Suggested Resources

I. Biography

William Moore Davis, born in Setauket on the north shore of Long Island on May 22, 1829, triumphed as an artist inspired by the stunning seashore that surrounded him. A self-taught artist who was greatly influenced by William Sidney Mount (1807–1868), he began working as a cabin boy on a Long Island Sound sloop at fifteen-years-old to fulfill his fascination with the sea; he later became a shipbuilding apprentice. By the time Davis reached his twenties he had become a professional painter and was able to marry his passions for both the ocean and art. As Davis continued to paint on Long Island, his friendship with Mount grew stronger and the two exchanged numerous letters with painting advice up until Mount’s death in 1868. At that time, Davis moved to Manhattan where he opened a studio. It did not last long, however, and by 1872 he had returned to Long Island to live in the Port Jefferson area.[1]

As a painter of his surrounding environments, Davis usually depicted farmland and the sea. His works portray rural barns and houses, in which every stone or board shines in the light with impeccable details. He also painted fields, marshes, and the shoreline, sometimes including boats similar to the ones he used to build.[2] Davis’s realistic style pulls the viewer into the painting and creates the excitement of being within the setting.

Although Davis’s style was greatly influenced by Mount, he developed his own, distinct take on genre scenes. Like Mount, Davis also strived to portray reality in his paintings of workers, farmers, and their families, yet he captured the scenes with intense detail. In this way, he captured the mood of the subjects in his works, as well as their compassionate and hospitable faces, as they participated in mundane activities or jobs.[3] His brushwork was hard, clean, clear, sharp, and distinct, and captured light in a unique way.

“Painter Davis,” as he came to be known in the Port Jefferson area, thrived in Long Island where he exhibited his paintings almost exclusively. However, he did have a solo show in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1894, which included 135 of his works. William Moore Davis continued to live and paint on Long Island, capturing the beauty of his surroundings, until his death in 1920.

II. Chronology

1829 Born in Setauket, Long Island on May 22nd
1844 Worked as a cabin boy on the Long Island Sound and then became a ship builder.
1850 Left ship building and started painting full-time.
1862 Received recognition for three paintings on the Civil War that later were reproduced on postcards.
1868–72 Had a studio in New York City.
1872 Moved back to Long Island and lived in Port Jefferson.
1920 Moved residence to Mount Sinai, Long Island.
1920 Died on March 26th, buried at Sea View Cemetery.

III. Collections

Butler Museum of American Art, NY
Historical Society of Greater Port Jefferson, NY
Long Island Museum at Stony Brook, NY
Long Island Museum of American Art, History, and Carriages, NY
National Academy of Design in Manhattan, NY
New York State Historical Society, Cooperstown, NY
The Brooklyn Art Association, NY
The Butler Institute of American Art, NY
The Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities, NY

IV. Exhibitions

1862 National Academy of Design
1863 Brooklyn Art Association
1867–70 National Academy of Design
1868–71 Brooklyn Art Association
1894 Bridgeport, Connecticut (135 works)
1973 Port Jefferson’s Foremost Painter: W.M. Davis, Historical Society Museum of Greater Port Jefferson, Long Island
2002–03 A Painter from Port Jefferson: Works by Williams Moore Davis, Member’s Gallery of Art Museum at the Long Island Museum

V. Memberships

Historical Society of Greater Port Jefferson
Member’s Gallery of Art Museum at the Long Island Museum

VI. Notes

1. William H. Gerdts, Art Across America: Two Centuries of Regional Painting 1710–1920 (New York: Abbeville Press, Publishers, 1990), 146–8.
2. Traditional Fine Arts Organization (TFAO), 2003–2012, < Tfaoi.com > (20 Mar 2012).
3. Elizabeth Johns, The Farmer in the Works of William Sidney Mount (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1986), 257–8.

VII. Suggested Resources

Falk, Peter Hastings. Who Was Who in American Art 1564–1975: 400 Years of Artists in America. Connecticut: Sound View Press, 1999.
Gerdts, William H. Art Across America: Two Centuries of Regional Painting 1710–1920. Abbeville Press, Publishers, NY 1990.
Pisano, Ronald G. Long Island Landscape Painting: 1820–1920. New York: New York Graphic Society, 1985.

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