Born in East Orange, New Jersey, Randall Davey became an influential figure in early 20th century art including the art community of Santa Fe. He became a painter of portraits, still lifes, nude figures, and horse-racing genre, especially scenes of polo matches.
Davey studied architecture at Cornell University from 1905 to 1907, then left for New York City to attend Robert Henri's School of Painting and the Art Students League. He and Henri became good friends, and in 1910, traveled throughout Europe together.
In 1913, Davey was one of the exhibitors at the landmark Armory Show exhibition, where modern art was introduced on a large scale to the American public. In 1915, Davey took the National Academy of Design's Second Hallgarten Prize, and won honorable mention at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco.
Davey married Florence Nicks Sittenham of New York on May 19, 1911. That summer Davey painted with Henri and Bellows on Monhegan Island, Maine. Soon after he was appointed assistant instructor in Henri's summer painting classes in Spain. In 1913, Randall and Florence had their first son, William. They divorced in 1930, and he was married to Isabel Holt in 1932.
Davey and fellow painter/friend John Sloan were both students of Robert Henri, who had encouraged them to visit New Mexico. They and their wives headed West from New York City in a Simplex open touring car for an extended trip in 1919. They intended to camp but spent most nights in hotels and said that the hardest part of the trip was "getting their wives out of the hotel in the morning." Upon arriving, the travelers fell in love with the surroundings, and the Daveys decided to settle in Santa Fe where the Daveys purchased an old mill outside of town and converted it into a studio.
Unlike many artists of his time in the West, Davey did not make a practice of painting Indians. A vast majority of his subjects were nudes, which he rendered in a bold, brightly colored, Post-Impressionist style. A lover of horses and horse racing, Davey often used them as subjects in his works and not always from the spectator's viewpoint. His goal in these paintings was to capture the "nervous excitement and intensity" of the racetrack experience. When he taught at the Broadmoor Art Academy in 1924, his salary was twice the standard rate because of his skill in the game of polo and his necessity to maintain a string of ponies and keep up with the social set that followed the sport.
During his career, Davey was also commissioned to do several murals, some of which are in the Will Rogers Memorial Shrine in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Davey received many awards, including: second Julius Hallgarten Prize from National Academy of Design, for Young Woman in Brown, and Honorable Mention from Panama Pacific Exposition, for Lighthouse Keeper. In 1938 National Academician and Thomas B. Clarke American Figure Composition Prize, National Academy of Design, for Goose Hunters.
Randall Davey was a member of the National Academy of Design, National Association of Mural Painters, National Association of Portrait Painters, Board of Directors of Independent Artists, Taos Society of Artists, New Mexico Painters, and the Painter-Gravers Society.
In 1931, he was a member of the selection committee of the Broadmoor Art Academy, and served as a juror for the Carnegie International Exhibition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Also he served as juror for the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia exhibition and in 1939 for The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Biennial Exhibition.
His work may be found in the Art Institute of Chicago; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Cleveland Museum of Art; Delaware Art Institute, Wilmington; Detroit Institute of Arts; Kansas City Art Institute and School of Design, Missouri; Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey; Museum of New Mexico, Santa Fe; Nelson Gallery of Art, Atkins Museum of Fine Arts, Kansas City, Missouri; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City; and the Will Rogers Memorial Shrine, Colorado Springs.
A noted art instructor, Davey held teaching positions at the School of Art, Art Institute of Chicago (1920), the Kansas City Art Institute (1921-1924), Broadmoor Art Academy, and at the University of New Mexico (1945-1956). Elected honorary member at the School of American Research, Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1957.
Davey died, at age 77, in a car accident in 1964, on the way to California.