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The Art Story Homepage Artists Charles Demuth
Charles Demuth Photo

Charles Demuth

American Watercolorist and Oil Painter

Movements and Styles: Early American Modernism, Precisionism, Impressionism

Born: November 8, 1883 - Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Died: October 23, 1935 - Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Charles Demuth Timeline

"Paintings must be looked at and looked at and looked at. No writing, no talking, no singing, no dancing will explain them."

Charles Demuth Signature

Summary of Charles Demuth

A larger-than-life figure who is remembered nearly as often for his wit as he is for his paintings, the bold and insatiably curious Charles Demuth wasn't just a product of America's transformative early-20th century; he was one of its archetypes. Demuth was a principal member of the Precisionist movement that emphasized sharp lines and clear geometric shapes. Challenging the boundaries of race, class, sexuality, and artistic tradition, he digested the shifting social landscape around him and left behind a memorable body of work that defies categorization.

Key Ideas

Demuth's brilliance is in the way he emphasized distinct colors and shapes out of elements that are more often relegated to the background, such as the factory smoke in Incense of a New Church (1921), or that may be considered too dull or commonplace to paint at all, such as typography in I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold (1928). Some of these would go on to influence the design of movie and theater posters, book dust jackets, and other visual media for decades to come.
Like his friend and contemporary Georgia O'Keeffe, Demuth focused with intensity and precision on flowers and other vegetation. Unlike O'Keeffe, he stripped them down to precise geometric shapes and bold colors, imposing form and specificity on the chaos of the organic.
Demuth's cheeky and evocative (and private) paintings of early-20th-century American gay subculture are among its few surviving visual records, and his jazz portraits celebrate the power and dynamism of the Harlem Renaissance.
Charles Demuth Photo

Charles Demuth was the only child of Ferdinand and Augusta Demuth, long-term residents of Lancaster. He grew up in a house next door to the family tobacco shop on East King Street, which his father's family had owned since 1770. When he was four years old Demuth injured his hip and was bedridden for several weeks. His mother gave him crayons and watercolors to keep him entertained, and this marked the beginning of his love for art. As art would become a major feature of his life, so too, unfortunately, would illness. His injury made it necessary for him to use a cane and he walked with a pronounced limp. Though he was close to both his parents, his physical frailty meant that he was particularly dependent on his mother. He became socially withdrawn at school, preferring to play with girls over boys, as his mother and aunt had warned him that rough play with other boys could cause his injury to worsen. Both his parents supported his interest in painting and drawing from an early age - his father was an amateur photographer himself.

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Charles Demuth
Interactive chart with Charles Demuth's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart
Show influences

Artists

Paul CézannePaul Cézanne
John Singer SargentJohn Singer Sargent
William Merritt ChaseWilliam Merritt Chase

Personal Contacts

Alfred StieglitzAlfred Stieglitz
William Carlos WilliamsWilliam Carlos Williams

Movements

CubismCubism
FuturismFuturism
Influences on Artist
Influences on Artist
Charles Demuth
Charles Demuth
Years Worked: 1905 - 1935
Influenced by Artist
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Georgia O'KeeffeGeorgia O'Keeffe
John MarinJohn Marin
Charles SheelerCharles Sheeler
Stuart DavisStuart Davis
Gerald MurphyGerald Murphy

Personal Contacts

Charles DanielCharles Daniel
Marsden HartleyMarsden Hartley

Movements

PrecisionismPrecisionism
Early American ModernismEarly American Modernism

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Content compiled and written by Jen Glennon

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Jen Glennon
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 02 Mar 2016. Updated and modified regularly. Information
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