Alan Davie

Ball Game No. 4

Oil on canvas: 60(h) x 72(w) in /

152.4(h) x 182.9(w) cm

Signed, dated and inscribed on the reverse: Ball Game No. 4 / OPUS 0.307 / Alan Davie / Sept 1960

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SP 4724



Grangemouth, Scotland 1920 – 2014 Hertfordshire


Ball Game No. 4


Signed dated and inscribed Ball Game No. 4 / OPUS 0.307/

Alan Davie / Sept 1960  on the reverse

Oil on canvas: 60 x 72 in / 152.4 x 182.9 cm

Frame size: 61 x 73 1/8 in / 154.9 x 185.7 cm

Opus 0.307



Gimpel Fils, London [8919]

Bili Davie, Rush Green, then by descent



London, FBA Galleries, Alan Davie, 6th – 29th September 1962, then travelled to Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, November-December 1962, no. 48



Michael Horovitz, Alan Davie, Methuen, London, 1963, illustrated

Alan Bowness (ed.), Alan Davie, Lund Humphries, London, 1967, no. 257



As well as representing the maturation of his remarkable colour sense, Davie’s work of the early 1960s reveals for Alan Bowness, ‘a positive, optimistic quality about the pictures that makes them among the most life-enhancing of our time’.[1] Predominantly executed on canvas, Davie’s painting became more controlled, his shapes more clearly defined often, as in the present work, articulated with calligraphic black paint. The paintings produced during this decade also saw an increased interest in the spaces between shapes, the gleeful introduction of candy colours and new ranges of symbols. For Patrick Elliot, the joyful freedom apparent in Davie’s painting reflected happiness in the artist’s personal life: ‘While the epic works of the fifties often have sombre titles, suggesting rituals, sacrifice and shamanism, those of the 1960s are lighter in spirit, comical and brilliantly inventive…This lighter, brighter tone reflects something of the joie de vivre of Davie’s life at the time, when he was flying his glider, scuba diving, sailing, and driving his E-Type Jaguar.’[2]


Davie painted four versions of the bright and playful Ball Game series in September 1960, as well as a small oil on paper, entitled Red’s New Ball Game No. 1 (Manchester City Art Gallery), which is closely related in colour and composition to the present work. Only the largest work, Ball Game No. 4, was included in Davie’s 1962 retrospective in London and Amsterdam. The artist compared his sequential, intuitive working process with the improvisation of music (Davie also worked as a professional jazz musician): ‘It’s never the case in my work of having an idea first and then putting it on paper. The idea comes out of working. I do a whole series of drawings on an idea which has presented itself. I might do about twenty variations using that idea and developing it. It is very much like improvising on a piano – sitting down and playing, an idea will appear out of putting one note against another, which leads to other notes and, before you know where you are, a melodic line has appeared, and a harmonic structure presents itself.’[3]





Grangemouth, Scotland 1920 – 2014 Hertfordshire



Alan Davie was born on 28th September 1920 at Grangemouth, Scotland, to a pianist mother and artist father. Davie studied at the Edinburgh College of Art from 1937 and was awarded the Andrew Grant Scholarship in 1938 and 1941. From 1941–46, Davie carried out his military service with the Royal Artillery, during which he received the Guthrie Award for best painting at the Royal Scottish Academy summer show of 1942. He also discovered a passion for writing and reading poetry, in particular the work of Walt Whitman. In 1945 the artist was impressed by exhibitions on Picasso and Klee which he visited while on leave in London. Demobilised from the army, Davie held his first one-man exhibition in a bookshop in Edinburgh in 1946. On a visit to London that same year, an exhibition of African sculpture inspired a profound interest in primitive art. The following year he married Janet (Bili) Gaul, an artist/potter, and became a full-time jazz musician, playing tenor saxophone with Tommy Sampson’s Orchestra. He also began making and selling silver jewellery (in 1951, jewellery designed by Davie was worn by Vivian Leigh in Anthony and Cleopatra). Davie took up his deferred scholarship and travelled throughout Europe in the late 1940s through France, Switzerland, Spain and Italy, holding exhibitions in Florence and Venice, where he met and sold a painting to Peggy Guggenheim in 1948. Guggenheim also showed Davie her important collection of modern art, which may have been his first glimpse of American Abstract Expressionism. In 1950 he held his first solo show at Gimpel Fils, London and exhibited there every two years after that. Davie bought a cottage in Landsend, also in 1950, which he visited during the following summers. In 1954 the artist converted stables at Gamels, Hertfordshire into a home and studio.


Davie’s first American exhibition was held at the Catherine Viviano Gallery, New York in 1956, which he attended, meeting Abstract Expressionists Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, purchased paintings from the exhibition.  The artist’s interest in Zen Buddhism, inspired by Eugen Herrigel’s book Zen in the Art of Archery, developed from the mid-1950s along with the Jungian idea of the collective unconscious, animating his intuitive, improvisatory approach to painting. Davie taught at the Central School of Art from 1953-56 and from 1956–59 at Leeds College of Art, having been awarded the Gregory Fellowship at Leeds University. Two retrospectives of Davie’s work were held in 1958, at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (which made an impact on David Hockney) and Wakefield Art Gallery. Retrospectives were also subsequently held in 1993 at the Barbican Gallery, London and in 2003 at Tate St Ives. During the 1960s, he took up gliding and experimented with lithography. He also produced the first of several records by the Alan Davie Music Workshop. In 1963, Davie exhibited in the British section of the Bienal at São Paulo, Brazil, winning the award for best foreign painter. Alan Bowness published his monograph of the artist with Lund Humphries in 1967. Davie was awarded a CBE in 1972 and was commissioned the same year by the architect Peter Haupt to paint the Berlin School Murals. He also produced tapestry and mosaic designs, the latter for his home town, Grangemouth, for which he was awarded the Saltire Award in 1977. From the late 1970s, Davie began spending winters in St Lucia. He was elected a Senior Royal Academician in 2012 and was the subject of a BP Spotlight display at Tate Britain in 2014, featuring the eight oil paintings by Davie in their collection.


[1] Alan Bowness, op. cit., p. 174.

[2] Patrick Elliott, Alan Davie, Work in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, exhibition catalogue, SNGMA, Edinburgh, 2000, p. 14.

[3] The artist in conversation with Andrew Patrizio and Bill Hare, Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh, MacMillan, Hare & Patrizio,1992, p. 34., cited in Patrick Elliott, op. cit., p. 14.

Post War BritishAlan Davie