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Charles Demuth

(1883—1935)


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(b Lancaster, Pa., 8 Nov. 1883; d Lancaster, 23 Oct. 1935).

American painter and illustrator, a pioneer of modern art in his country. He visited Europe in 1904, 1907–8, and 1912–14, staying mainly in Paris, and during the last of these visits he became seriously interested in avant-garde art, particularly Cubism. From about 1916 its influence is evident in his paintings of architectural subjects, with which he became one of the leading exponents of Precisionism. His most personal paintings are what he called ‘poster portraits’ (pictures composed of words and objects associated with the person ‘represented’). The most famous example is I Saw the Figure Five in Gold (1928, Met. Mus., New York), a tribute to the poet William Carlos Williams and named after one of his poems. Demuth was lame from childhood and in the last decade of his life was debilitated by diabetes. Often he worked on a small scale in watercolour, rather than in more physically demanding media. The fastidious taste and concentrated energy of his work are suggested by his comment: ‘John Marin [another great American watercolourist] and I drew our inspiration from the same source, French modernism. He brought his up in buckets and spilt much along the way. I dipped mine out with a teaspoon, but I never spilt a drop.’

Subjects: Art.


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