Stuart Davis was born in Philadelphia on December 7, 1892. After leaving high school in 1910, he attended the Robert Henry art school in New York and exhibited for the first time at the Exhibition of Independent Artists. Upon finishing school in 1913, he began collaborating with the social journal, The Masses, and showed several of his watercolors at the Armory Show. In 1917 his first solo exhibition took place at the Sheridan Square Gallery, New York. After World War I, during which he served as a cartographer for the U.S. Secret Service, Davis started painting the Tobacco Still Life series and Cubist landscapes. Edith Halpert became his dealer in 1927 and organized the first of many exhibition of his work at the Downtown Gallery of New York. The following year, Juliana Force, of the Whitney Studio Club, bought two of his paintings, which allowed him to move to Paris until the summer of 1929. There he met Fernand Léger.
Back in the U.S., during the 1930s he worked in the mural-painting division of the WPA Federal Art Project and earned many significant commissions, including the Swing Landscape mural for the Williamsburg Housing Project of Brooklyn, completed in 1938. Davis was also involved in several political and artistic organizations, including the Artists’ Union and the Artists’ Congress, for which he served as National Secretary. He left this position in 1940 to teach for a decade at the New School of Social Research in New York, while continuing to exhibit his work. He won first prize at the 1944 exhibition, Portrait of America, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The following year, James Johnson Sweeney organized a retrospective of his work at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Widely recognized as one of the major figures of American art, Davis won many awards and received honors from various museums and art organizations throughout the 1950s. In 1951 he took part in the first São Paulo Bienal. The following year he participated in the Venice Biennale, and returned there in 1956. In 1955 he painted the mural, Allee, for Drake Unversity in Des Moines, Iowa. In 1958 and 1960 he won the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum International Award, and shortly before his death on June 24, 1964, received an award from the Art Institute of Chicago.