1938-1939: Arrival in Italy

Clifford Jones

Clifford Jones, 1397 Prix de Rome winner

Harry Davis sailed out of New York harbor aboard the liner Conte de Savoia on September 24, 1938 and docked in Naples, Italy on October 1. Waiting on the pier was Clifford Jones.

“Davis and three of the other new fellows landed October 1. Hartshorne, an architect, and I went down to Naples and met them at the dock and saved them a little confusion in getting up to Rome.... Davis will go north on the annual trip north with Mr. Walker soon and be introduced to the wonders of Italy.”

Clifford Jones, letter to Donald Mattison, October 14, 1938

Besides describing his own activities in Rome in his letters to Donald Mattison, Jones would also provide an update on Davis.

“Harry is starting on some work, and seems to enjoy the academy very much. He will undoubtedly develop a style while working here. He seems to gloat over crowds of people and the characters in them, and the peasants and groups on the piazzas in Italy will certainly keep him thinking and observing. He should also develop a much leaner sense of decoration, while looking at the masterpieces of this kind of work in the churches and palaces, here in Italy.”

Clifford Jones, letter to Donald Mattison, January 8, 1939

Davis divided his time at the American Academy between working on his art projects and traveling around Italy and other areas, either on tours planned by the academy or on personal trips.

The first trip was a three-week tour of northern Italy in November 1938 led by John Walker, an associate director of the academy who was in charge of its School of Fine Arts. The tour visited Orvieto, Assisi, Arezzo, Urbino, Ravenna, Venice, Mantua, Padua, Verona, Bologna, Florence, and Sienna.

“It was a wonderful trip and we had many interesting experiences. The trip was to give us a general idea of the places, so we may go back at any time and know what is there.... I think Venice was more important to me than any place else, for the Tintorettos there are swell. I think the next best thing was the Botticellis in the Uffizi, Florence.”

Harry Davis, letter to Herron classmates, December 17, 1938

Postcard of Venice

Photo postcard of Venice

“Well here we are in Venice. We came by way of Assisi, Perugia, Arezzo, Urbino, Rimini, Ravenna, and Padova. We came as far as Rimini with Mr. Walker, and one of the fellows took sick, so the rest of us came by train. We will stay here till they come on. I won’t mind that for I like Venice very much. I think the Francesca’s are swell and I plan later this winter to go back to Urbino to make a copy. This is a marvelous trip so far and we are about 1/3 of the way. I want to go to Assisi again to do some water colors.”

Harry Davis, postcard to Donald Mattison, November 7, 1938

Harry A. Davis Jr. working on Hector and Diana

Harry Davis working on Hector and Diana while smoking a pipe

“If you like smoking at all, over here you will eventually turn to a pipe. For the cigarettes are terrible and the cigars strong and black. You can get English tobacco reasonably for a pipe. I got a meerschaum pipe in Venice, it looked very good and the second time I filled it up and started to settle back in comfort, it blew up. But I still smoke a pipe.”

Harry Davis, letter to Herron classmates, December 17, 1938

Drawing of a Nude

Drawing of a Nude

Harry A. Davis Jr. working on Drawing of a Nude

Harry Davis working on Drawing of a Nude

“I have been painting some nudes and I have two finished, one a reclining, and the other from back. I glazed them on panels and have 17th century frames around them and the back is the best I’ve done.... I’m sending a photograph of the drawing on panel, done in two hours from the model, a little less than life size.”

Harry Davis, letter to Donald Mattison and Henrik Mayer, March 4, 1939

Postcard of Capri

Photo postcard of Capri

“I am taking sort of a spring vacation now. I have been working pretty hard and yesterday I left Rome and stayed last night at Hotel Minerva at Sorrento, made a water color early this morning. Took a ferry here and have been walking all day. Tis a beautiful island. I’m staying here tomorrow and then going up to Mount Vesuvius, the Amalfi drive and spend some time in the Naples museum. Then back to a collaborative which I don’t like.”

Harry Davis, postcard to Donald Mattison, February 26, 1939 from the Isle of Capri

Postcard of Assisi

Photo postcard of Assisi

“I’m back in what I think is the most beautiful town in Italy. It is quite cold here now with snow on the mountains. The train ride up here was very enjoyable and I kick myself for hanging around the Academy as much as I did this year when there is so much to see. Going to Arezzo again then Florence. I have to be back to finish my copy before going to Greece.”

Harry Davis, postcard to Donald Mattison, March 21, 1939 from Assisi, Italy

In early 1939 Davis made a trip to Naples, Capri, Sorrento, Ravello, Salerno, and Paestum, then made a second visit to Assisi and Florence. In April 1939 he took a six-week trip to Greece with Chester Starr, a historian who was fellow at the American Academy.

“You’ll probably wonder why I, a painter, stayed so long in Greece. Well, I’ve gotten sort of tired of going through galleries and seeing art all the time. I wanted to see people and life. One of my best friends here at the Academy, a swell fellow—Starr by name—an ancient historian, wanted me to go with him.... You see, traveling together, I would see Greece from the point of view of an ancient historian, and through my own eyes, being a painter, was people, customs, etc.”

Harry Davis, letter to Donald Mattison, May 19, 1939 

1938-1939: Arrival in Italy