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Charles Demuth (November 8, 1883 – October 23, 1935)

Charles Demuth (November 8, 1883 – October 23, 1935) was an American watercolorist who turned to oils late in his career, developing a style of painting known as Precisionism. (Picture: Charles Demuth, Self-Portrait, 1907)

"Search the history of American art," wrote Ken Johnson in the New York Times, "and you will discover few watercolors more beautiful than those of Charles Demuth. Combining exacting botanical observation and loosely Cubist abstraction, his watercolors of flowers, fruit and vegetables have a magical liveliness and an almost shocking sensuousness."

Demuth was a lifelong resident of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The home he shared with his mother is now the Demuth Museum, which showcases his work. He graduated from Franklin & Marshall Academy before studying at Drexel University and at Philadelphia's Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. While he was a student at PAFA, he met William Carlos Williams at his boarding house. The two were fast friends and remained close for the rest of their lives.

He later studied at Académie Colarossi and Académie Julian in Paris, where he became a part of the avant garde art scene. The Parisian artistic community was accepting of Demuth's

While he was in Paris he met Marsden Hartley by walking up to a table of American artists and asking if he could join them. He had a great sense of humor, rich in double entendres, and they asked him to be a regular member of their group. Through Hartley he met Alfred Stieglitz and became a member of the Stieglitz group. In 1926, he had a one-man show at the Anderson Galleries and another at Intimate Gallery the New York gallery run by his friend Alfred Stieglitz.

His most famous painting, The Figure Five in Gold, was inspired by his friend William Carlos Williams's poem The Great Figure. Roberta Smith described the work in the New York Times: "Demuth's famous visionary accounting of Williams, I Saw the Figure Five in Gold, [is] a painting whose title and medallion-like arrangement of angled forms were both inspired by a verse the poet wrote after watching a fire engine streak past him on a rainy Manhattan street while waiting for Marsden Hartley, whose studio he was visiting, to answer his door."  Describing its importance, Judith H. Dobrzynski in The Wall Street Journal wrote: "It's the best work in a genre Demuth created, the "poster portrait." It's a witty homage to his close friend, the poet William Carlos Williams, and a transliteration into paint of his poem, "The Great Figure." It's a decidedly American work made at a time when U.S. artists were just moving beyond European influences. It's a reference to the intertwined relationships among the arts in the 1920s, a moment of cross-pollination that led to American Modernism. And it anticipates Pop art."

The work is one of nine poster portraits Demuth created to honor his creative friends. The others were devoted to artists Georgia O'Keeffe, Arthur Dove, Charles Duncan, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, and writers Gertrude Stein, Eugene O'Neill, and Wallace Stevens.

In 1927, Demuth started a series of seven panel paintings depicting factory buildings in his hometown. He finished the last of the seven, After All in 1933 and died two years later. Six of those paintings are highlighted in Chimneys and Towers: Charles Demuth’s Late Paintings of Lancaster, a 2007 Amon Carter Museum retrospective of his work, displayed in 2008 at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

According to the exhibit notes from the Amon Carter show, Demuth's will left many of his paintings to Georgia O'Keeffe. Her strategic decisions regarding which museums received these works cemented his reputation as a major painter of the Precisionist school.

Demuth suffered either an injury when he was four years old or may have had polio or tuberculosis of the hip that left him with a marked limp and required him to use a cane. He later developed diabetes and was one of the first people in the United States to receive insulin. He spent most of his life in frail health, and he died in Lancaster at the age 51 of complications from diabetes.

Charles used the Lafayette Baths as his favorite haunt. His 1918 homoerotic self-portrait set in a Turkish bathhouse was likely set there.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Demuth


Incense of a New Church, 1921


The Figure 5 in Gold, 1928 (Poster Portrait for William Carlos Williams)


Turkish Bath with Self Portrait, 1918


Poster Portrait for Georgia O'Keefe


After Sir Christopher Wren, 1920


Aucassiu and Nicolette, 1921


Buildings, Lancaster


Chimney and Watertower, 1931


Machinery, 1920


My Egypt


Wild Orchids, 1920

Further Readings:

Speaking for Vice: Homosexuality in the Art of Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley, and the First American Avant-Garde (Yale Publications in the History of Art) by Jonathan Weinberg
Paperback: 280 pages
Publisher: Yale University Press (September 10, 1995)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0300062540
ISBN-13: 978-0300062540
Amazon: Speaking for Vice: Homosexuality in the Art of Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley, and the First American Avant-Garde (Yale Publications in the History of Art)

Focusing on the art of Charles Demuth, and his friend and fellow member of the Steiglitz Circle, Marsden Hartley, this book aims to show the many ways in which the homosexual culture of the years between the wars informs their work and that of other artists.

Chimneys and Towers: Charles Demuth's Late Paintings of Lancaster by Betsy Fahlman
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press (August 8, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0812220129
ISBN-13: 978-0812220124
Amazon: Chimneys and Towers: Charles Demuth's Late Paintings of Lancaster

Charles Demuth (1883-1935) was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, into a prominent family in the tobacco business. He studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and later at the Academie Colarossi and Academie Julian in Paris, where he was first exposed to the European avant-garde. Returning to America after his studies, he participated in the transmission of modern European ideas into American art-along with Georgia O'Keeffe, Demuth was a proponent of Precisionism, a movement that incorporated the clean lines and geometrical forms of Cubism and Futurism into depictions of the American landscape. Chimneys and Towers focuses on Demuth's late paintings of industrial sites in Lancaster. During this period he struggled with diabetes and painted little, but the powerful visual impact of the works he completed belies his diminishing physical strength. Depicting the warehouses and factories of the city's tobacco and linoleum industries in sharp, geometric forms, these paintings show an artist negotiating both artistic and personal identity, bringing to the depiction of his hometown the style of the American avant-garde that he helped create. While scholars have long recognized the importance of these works, Chimneys and Towers offers new perspectives on their initial critical reception, as well as a more complete understanding of the paintings' relationship to Demuth's native Lancaster. Betsy Fahlman also explores in depth the effects of Demuth's failing health on his art, offering previously unpublished correspondence that reveals the central role that Pennsylvania art collector Albert C. Barnes played in extending Demuth's life.

Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture by Jonathan D. Katz & David C. Ward
Hardcover: 296 pages
Publisher: Smithsonian Books; First Edition edition (November 2, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1588342999
ISBN-13: 978-1588342997
Amazon: Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture

An entirely new interpretation of modern American portraiture based on the history of sexual difference.

Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, companion volume to an exhibition of the same name at the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, traces the defining presence of same-sex desire in American portraiture through a seductive selection of more than 140 full-color illustrations, drawings, and portraits from leading American artists. Arcing from the turn of the twentieth century, through the emergence of the modern gay liberation movement in 1969, the tragedies of the AIDS epidemic, and to the present, Hide/Seek openly considers what has long been suppressed or tacitly ignored, even by the most progressive sectors of our society: the influence of gay and lesbian artists in creating American modernism.

Hide/Seek shows how questions of gender and sexual identity dramatically shaped the artistic practices of influential American artists such as Thomas Eakins, Romaine Brooks, Marsden Hartley, Georgia O'Keeffe, Charles Demuth, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Andrew Wyeth, Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe, and many more—in addition to artists of more recent works such as Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Glenn Ligon, Catherine Opie, and Cass Bird. The authors argue that despite the late-nineteenth-century definition and legal codification of the “homosexual,” in reality, questions of sexuality always remained fluid and continually redefined by artists concerned with the act of portrayal. In particular, gay and lesbian artists—of but not fully in the society they portrayed—occupied a position of influential marginality, from which vantage point they crafted innovative and revolutionary ways of painting portraits. Their resistance to society's attempt to proscribe them forced them to develop new visual vocabularies by which to code, disguise, and thereby express their subjects' identities—and also their own.

Bringing together for the first time new scholarship in the history of American sexuality and new research in American portraiture, Hide/Seek charts the heretofore hidden impact of gay and lesbian artists on American art and portraiture and creates the basis for the necessary reassessment of the careers of major American artists—both gay and straight—as well as of portraiture itself.

Art and Homosexuality: A History of Ideas by Christopher Reed
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA; 1 edition (May 26, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0195399072
ISBN-13: 978-0195399073
Amazon: Art and Homosexuality: A History of Ideas

This bold, globe-spanning survey is the first book to thoroughly explore the radical, long-standing interdependence between art and homosexuality. It draws examples from the full range of the Western tradition, including classical, Renaissance, and contemporary art, with special focus on the modern era. It was in the modern period, when arguments about homosexuality and the avant-garde were especially public, that our current conception of the artist and the homosexual began to take shape, and almost as quickly to overlap. Not a chronology of gay or lesbian artists, the book is a fascinating and sophisticated account of the ways two conspicuous identities have fundamentally informed one another. Art and Homosexuality discusses many of modernism's canonical figures--painters like Courbet, Picasso, and Pollock; writers like Whitman and Stein--and issues, such as the rise of abstraction, the avant-garde's relationship to its patrons and the political exploitation of art. It shows that many of the core ideas that define modernism are nearly indecipherable without an understanding of the paired identities of artist and homosexual. Illustrated with over 175 b/w and color images that range from high to popular culture and from Ancient Greece to contemporary America, Art and Homosexuality punctures the platitudes surrounding discussions of both aesthetics and sexual identity and takes our understanding of each in stimulating new directions.

More Artists at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Art


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