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 Charles Henry Demuth  (1883 - 1935)

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About: Charles Henry Demuth
 

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Lived/Active: Pennsylvania/New York      Known for: modernist landscape, still life, figure, industrial painitng

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BIOGRAPHY for Charles Demuth
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Birth
1883 (Lancaster, Pennsylvania)
 
Death
1935 (Lancaster, Pennsylvania)

Lived/Active
Pennsylvania/New York

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modernist landscape, still life, figure, industrial painitng

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Fauves/Fauvism
San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915
Modernism
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A painter of allegorical figurative watercolors including a vaudeville series and also contemporary floral studies, Charles Demuth was also a major exponent of Precisionism as well as more poetic styles that emphasized emotional response to art. Much of his work is rooted in French modernism including Fauvism. He painted with oil and tempera as well as watercolor and completed about 750 paintings and 350 drawings during his lifetime.

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 had a childhood of much isolation and illness and throughout his life, had a sense of being an outsider.

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.

During the 1920s, his work became 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.

Sources include:
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Art
Peter Falk, Who Was Who in American Art


Biography from Hollis Taggart Galleries (Artists, A-D):
Charles Demuth was born on November 8, 1883 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania to a prosperous family in the tobacco business, who encouraged his artistic pursuits. His father Ferdinand was an amateur photographer, and his grandmother and aunt were amateur flower painters. His mother cultivated a lush Victorian garden, and flowers would fascinate Demuth endlessly.

Demuth studied at the School of Industrial Art in Philadelphia from 1903 to 1905. In 1904 he made a brief sojourn to Paris, living the bohemian life and breathing French Modernism. In 1905 Demuth enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts where he was the pupil of Thomas Anshutz, Hugh Breckenridge, and Henry McCarter. He was friendly with Charles Sheeler and Arthur Carles, and formed a lifelong friendship with William Carlos Williams. In the fall of 1907, on his second trip to Paris, Demuth made the acquaintance of Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, André Derain, Raoul Dufy and Maurice de Vlaminck--all aesthetes of the Fauve principles. Demuth returned to the States in 1908 where he re-enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy and finished his studies in 1910.

Back at his family home in Lancaster, Demuth focused on still lifes and figurative studies reflecting the influence of Matisse and the Fauves. In 1912 on his third visit to Europe, at the height of the Cubist revolution, Demuth studied at the Academies Colarossi and Julian interspersed with trips to London and Berlin. He was introduced to Leo and Gertrude Stein and began to frequent their salon where he met Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris, Robert Delaunay, Francis Picabia and Marcel Duchamp. Demuth flourished in this milieu and thoroughly immersed himself in the work of Cézanne.

Upon his return to the United States in 1914, Demuth alternated between Lancaster, Provincetown on Cape Cod, a summer colony of artists and writers, and New York City. For several months at the end of 1915 he lived in New York’s Greenwich Village. He metamorphosed from a traditional painter to a progressive painter. He attended the Arensberg salon frequented by Duchamp and Charles Sheeler whenever he stayed in New York and took part in Dada ideology. Marsden Hartley, with whom he shared common interests, introduced him to Alfred Stieglitz, but Stieglitz refused to carry anyone whose work competed with John Marin’s watercolors. Demuth frequented “291,” Stieglitz’s gallery, to familiarize himself with the American vanguard. The Daniel Gallery in New York sponsored him until he joined Stieglitz’s stable in 1917.

In the winter of 1916-1917 Demuth visited Bermuda with Hartley where he produced watercolors which vibrated like a “living nerve,” and inspired by Albert Gleizes, who was there at the time, he began to demonstrate architechtonic structure, laying a foundation for Cubist-Realism, or Precisionism, an adaptation of Cubism. Demuth began to introduce industrial imagery onto his canvases. Such works were his main concern until the early 1920s, when he painted still lifes in homage to Cézanne. Demuth made another trip to Paris in 1921 revisiting his art theories, and in homage to Gertrude Stein, presented her a gift of a small landscape.

Most of Demuth’s work was painted in Lancaster, which provided him with his varied subject matter--vaudeville, acrobats, café and bar scenes, as well as illustrating stories and plays for his private pleasure--side-by-side with his elegant and airy flower watercolors.

Frail his entire life, Demuth died of diabetes at the age of fifty-two in 1935. He left behind a body of more than nine hundred works, some very powerful and some extremely delicate, but all infused with a highly personal response to Modernism.

Demuth is represented in prominent private and public collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Brooklyn Museum, New York; the Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois; the Barnes Foundation, Merion, Pennsylvania; Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts; and the Phillips Collection, Washington, D. C.

© Copyright 2008 Hollis Taggart Galleries

Biography from Owen Gallery:
In Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the Demuth family name can be traced back to the 1700s. Charles Demuth was born in the town in 1883, and the site, depicted in many of his most important works, proved important to the artist's work for the remainder of his career.

Demuth exhibited an early interest in and aptitude for drawing and painting. He followed a traditional course of artistic training, studying at various artistic institutes at home and abroad. However, on his third European trip, during the years of 1912 to 1914, Demuth took his first decisive step toward the avant-garde, socializing with such personalities as Gertrude and Leo Stein, Alice Toklas, Marsden Hartley, and Arnolf Ronnenbeck.

Throughout the teens and 1920s, Demuth successfully exhibited with the Daniel Gallery in New York. However, in 1926, he 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.

Demuth lived a life riddled with chronic health problems; he was stricken lame at the age of four due to an injury to his hip, and suffered from diabetes for the last fifteen years of his life. After fourteen months of illness during which he was not able to paint, Demuth, later discovered by his mother, died quietly in his bed in Lancaster.

Biography from Mark Borghi Fine Art Inc - New York:
One of America's prominent modernists, Charles Demuth was born to a family of comfortable means in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Although plagued by ill health for most of his life, (he suffered from diabetes and a club-foot), he traveled widely in his life. He became a leading proponent of Precisionism.

He pursued art studies at the Drexel Institute, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts under Thomas Anschutz, and then spent several years studying art in Paris. While there, he became a frequent visitor to the salon of Gertrude and Leo Stein.

Demuth's health was frail; from an early age he suffered from lameness and as an adult from severe diabetes. Though plagued by illness all his life, he produced over a thousand works of art, including the well known "My Egypt," which was inspired by grain elevators in Lancaster.

During his lifetime he sold many of his works, enjoyed favorable reviews from art critics, and was part of Alfred Stieglitz's American Place Gallery in New York. Although he studied and painted in Philadelphia, New York, Provincetown, Paris and Bermuda, Demuth created most of his art in his home where he worked in a small second floor studio of the rear wing, overlooking the garden. The garden was tended by his mother Augusta and was the source of inspiration for many of Demuth's paintings

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