Davies was born in Utica, New York, and at age of 15 studied with Dwight Williams in nearby Cazenovia. After moving with his family to Chicago in 1879, Davies worked at various trades before studying with Charles Corwin at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1883. Two or possibly three years later he moved to New York City where he further pursued his studies at the Art Students League. After working as an illustrator for the Century Magazine and Saint Nicholas, Davies moved to Congers, New York in 1892 where he worked briefly as a farmer and began to execute landscape sketches of romantic scenery. In 1893, the art dealer William Macbeth added Davies to his stable and two years later he went off to Europe with the financial assistance of Benjamin Altman. There he began to paint canvases featuring women and children in idyllic settings which recall the works of Puvis de Chavnannes, Giorgione and Watteau. After returning from Europe in 1894, Davies settled in New York City.
After the turn of the century Davies began to concentrate on painting nudes symbolizing abstract and poetic ideas. His canvases became larger and his color cooler. In 1908 he exhibited his work as part of the landmark exhibition of The Eight at the Macbeth Gallery. After organizing the Armory Show of 1913, he experimented with Cubism, and following a trip to California in 1915 began to create dense and elaborate mythological scenes working in his earlier more lyrical style. He also dedicated greater attention to landscape painting. Late in life Davies experimented with sculpture, created numerous tapestry designs, and renewed his interest in mural decoration. Upon Davies' death in 1928, a large memorial exhibition of his work was organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
"Reclining Nude" dates from about 1920, and is executed in Davies' typically loose and summary style. The painting closely relates to Davies' lithograph "The Urn", which was published in the Fall of 1920. The work also relates to his oils "Balance of the Golden Scale" (c. 1923, Location Unknown) and "Daphnes of the Ravine" (c, 1922, Philadelphia Museum of Art), as well as to an unidentified tapestry design reproduced in the Ferargil Gallery Papers at the Archives of American Art (microfilm roll number 1008, frame 1406). Davies' nudes represent denizens of Arcadia. They are often pictured in the midst of dreaming. Davies was deeply interested in dreams, and kept a pencil and paper by his bed in order to jot down his own dreams upon waking. For the artist, the dream symbolized the unconscious life of the spirit, and the image of a sleeping figure represented the embodiment of the dream.