Charles Demuth

Summary

Charles Demuth (November 8, 1883 – October 23, 1935) was an American watercolorist who later switched to oils. He developed a style of painting that later became known as Precisionism.

Demuth lived his entire life in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The house he shared with his mother is now a museum. He graduated from Franklin & Marshall College and went on to study at Drexel University and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. While studying at PAFA, he met writer William Carlos Williams in his dorm. The two became close friends and kept in close contact for the rest of their lives.

Later, Demuth studied in Paris at the Académie Colarossi and the Académie Julian, where he belonged to the avant garde. The Parisian art community accepted Demuth”s homosexuality.

In Paris, he met the painter Marsden Hartley by walking up to a table of American artists and asking if he could join them. Thanks to his sense of ambiguous humor, he was invited to become a member of their group. Through Hartley, he met the gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz and became a member of the Stieglitz group. In 1926 he had a one-man exhibition at the Anderson Gallery and at the Intimate Gallery, an exhibition space in New York run by his friend Alfred Stieglitz.

Zijn bekendste schilderij, I Saw the Figure Five in Gold, is geïnspireerd op een gedicht van zijn vriend William Carlos Williams, genaamd The Great Figure. Roberta Smith omschreef het werk in de New York Times als Demuth”s beroemde visionaire schildering van Williams, I Saw the Figure Five in Gold, een schilderij waarvan zowel de titel als de medaillon-achtige opstelling van hoekige vormen geïnspireerd waren op een vers dat de dichter schreef nadat hij op een regenachtige straat in Manhattan een brandweerauto voorbij had zien razen terwijl hij wachtte tot Marsden Hartley, wiens studio hij bezocht, zijn deur zou openen”.

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

In 1927 Demuth began a series of seven panels showing factory buildings in his hometown. He completed the last of the seven, After All, in 1933. Two years later he died of diabetes. Six of the paintings were highlighted in Chimneys and Towers: Charles Demuth”s Late Paintings of Lancaster, a retrospective exhibition of his work (2007-2008).

According to the catalog, Demuth left many of his works in his will to Georgia O”Keeffe. Her strategic decisions regarding which museums could receive his work established his reputation as a great painter of the precisionist school.

Demuth suffered an injury when he was four years old, or he had polio or tuberculosis at the hip, which caused him to limp and require a cane. Later he also developed diabetes. He was one of the first in America to receive insulin. He spent most of his life in poor health and died at the age of 51 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, from complications of diabetes.

Demuth was a frequent visitor to the Lafayette Baths, a gay sauna. For his homoerotic self-portrait in a Turkish bathhouse, he probably used this building as a backdrop.

Demuth was distantly related to Christopher DeMuth, former president of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

Ken Johnson wrote in the New York Times; “Search the history of American art, and you will find few watercolors more beautiful than those of Charles Demuth. Combining precise botanical observations and cubism, his watercolors of flowers, fruits and vegetables have a magical vividness and a startling sensuality.”

Sources

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