Charles Demuth 1883 —1935
Charles Demuth was a major exponent of Precisionism as well as more poetic styles that emphasized emotional response to art such as floral studies. Much of his work is rooted modernism including Fauvism. He painted with oil and tempera as well as watercolor and completed about 750 paintings and watercolors and 350 drawings during his lifetime.
The cause of Modernism was advanced by the photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn who in the first decade of the 20th century focused his lens upon the new technological advances; the suspension bridges of London (1906), New York (1909-1912), the 'Skyscrapers' of New York (1909-1911) and the new industrial complexes in Pittsburgh (1911).
Demuth was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and kept close ties to his hometown, although he moved in highly sophisticated circles in New York, Provincetown, and Paris and delighted in the bohemian lifestyle he found in these places.
He first studied at the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia and after a trip to Europe in 1904, became a student of Thomas Anschutz at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts until 1911. Then he went to Paris for two years and began his pursuit of modern art, becoming associated with avant-garde literary persons including Gertrude and Leo Stein and modernist painters Matisse, Braque, Derain, Dufy and Vlaminck. He attended the Academie Julian, Academie Colarossi and Academie Moderne.
His early paintings were simple floral and figure studies in watercolor with shifting tonalities of color, and he also did watercolor illustrations for books and plays including works by Henry James and Emile Zola.
Returning to America in 1914, he became one of the modernist artists associated with Alfred Stieglitz and was also among the group of intellectuals around Marcel Duchamp and the Dada Movement. He and Duchamp spent much time in Harlem jazz clubs and Greenwich Village bars, and he loved the life of the big city libertine. A close friend was Marsden Hartley, and they went to Bermuda together in 1916 and 1917.
From 1915, much of his effort was devoted to figurative subjects, and a recurring theme was acrobatic figures, which reflected an early 20th century American interest. His art reputation was established with his New York solo exhibition in 1915 at the George Daniel Gallery. Shortly after that he experimented with Cubism, and his first Precisionist work was done in 1919. Much of his Precisionist subject matter was the empty-seeming urban landscape, barren of human emotion and reflective of post-World War I disillusionment.
In 1926, Demuth enjoyed his first one-man show at Alfred Stieglitz's celebrated Intimate Gallery. Demuth had long since known Stieglitz, having first been introduced by Hartley in 1914, and had been involved in group shows organized by the dealer since the previous year. During the 1920s, his work had become increasingly realistic and more focused on line and shape and color. He suffered from diabetes and turned to small-scale still lifes and floral studies that, unlike his urban studies, were loaded with personal feeling. Between 1924 and 1929, he did many portraits of friends with objects representing their lives. Special friends were Georgia O'Keeffe, John Marin, and Marsden Hartley.
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View synoptic biography below.
Among the prominent museums with works by Demuth in their collections are:
Albright Knox Art Gallery; Amon Carter Museum of Art; Arizona State University Art Museum; Art Institute of Chicago; Brooklyn Museum of Art; Butler Institute of American Art; Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh/Carnegie ; Chrysler Museum of Art; Cleveland Museum of Art; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Dallas Museum of Art; Delaware Art Museum; Demuth Museum, Lancaster PA; Denver Art Museum; Fogg Art Museum; Georgia Museum of Art; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum; Mead Art Museum; Memorial Art Gallery; Metropolitan Museum of Art; Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts; Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Museum of Art and Archaeology; University of Missouri-Columbia; National Gallery of Art; Neuberger Museum of Art; Newark Museum; National Gallery of Art; National Portrait Gallery; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art; Neuberger Museum of Art; Newark Museum; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Rhode Island School of Design-Museum of Art; San Diego Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Santa Barbara Museum of Art; ; Sheldon Museum of Art; Smithsonian American Art Museum; ; Museum of Fine Arts Boston; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston TX; Museum of Modern Art, NY; Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis; Wadsworth Atheneum; ; Whitney Museum of American Art; Williams College Museum of Art; Weatherspoon Art Gallery; and Yale University Art Gallery .
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