In spite of his deteriorating health due to diabetes, the 1920s were Charles Demuth's most prolific years as a painter. Building on his success of the previous decade, he produced a large number of watercolors working in his own delicate modernist style based on the Cubist form and Expressionist...
In spite of his deteriorating health due to diabetes, the 1920s were Charles Demuth's most prolific years as a painter. Building on his success of the previous decade, he produced a large number of watercolors working in his own delicate modernist style based on the Cubist form and Expressionist color he had studied during a series of trips to Europe as a student. Still lifes, especially floral, continued to be Demuth's specialty, although he had also made figurative and architectural compositions in the 1910s. Demuth had begun his career as a painter in oils, and had trained at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts under realist artist Thomas Anshutz, but he did not return to the medium until about 1920 when he focused on industrial subjects of his native Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In 1923 Demuth embarked on a series of "portraits" made in homage to his avant-garde friends, including artists John Marin, Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove, and Georgia O'Keeffe, and the writers Gertrude Stein and William Carlos Williams. Demuth's images were not likenesses, but still lifes containing objects that he associated with his subject. Other modernists- writers, composers, and artists including Francis Picabia, Virgil Thomson, Marcel Duchamp, Stein, Hartley, O'Keeffe, and Dove-had also made these kinds of symbolic portraits in words, music, photography, caricature, collage, and paintings. The resulting works were often only appreciated by a small circle who were able to decipher the allusions. For his portraits, Demuth fused his modernist style with elements of commercial advertising, using flat shapes, lettering, and high key color. The results were little understood, and when four of them were exhibited by Stieglitz in 1925 (Demuth's first exhibition there) one critic complained that they were done "in a code for which we have not the key." Scholars have suggested that "Longhi on Broadway," with its arts publications and theater masks, is a portrait of the playwright Eugene O'Neill, whom Demuth had first met in Provincetown. The title refers to the eighteenth-century painter Pietro Longhi, who included dancing masked figures in his images of the Venetian aristocracy; the masks are also traditional emblems of the theater. This text was adapted from Davis, et al., MFA Highlights: American Painting (Boston, 2003) available at www.mfashop.com/mfa-publications.html.
Lower left, on blue magazine: 50 CD.; lower center, on orange magazine: NOVEMBER, 1927.
The artist; Georgia O'Keeffe; her gift to William H. Lane; to William H. Lane Foundation by exchange, 1956-57; to MFA, 1990, gift of the William H. Lane Foundation.
Gift of the William H. Lane Foundation