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Charles Demuth

November 8, 1883 - October 23, 1935


Charles Henry Buckius Demuth was an American painter who traveled widely and lived abroad during his life but his main residence was always his family’s home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, now the Demuth Museum, where he lived with his mother. He called it “The Chateau.” He was ultra-sophisticated, witty, well read, and felt that every decision was an aesthetic one, even one’s name. His family pronounced their last name ‘duh-MOOTH,’ but Charles insisted on ‘DEE-muth.’

When Demuth was confined to bed for a year as a child, he was given art supplies which inspired his love of art. He first worked in watercolors, and turned to oils later in life. He studied at Drexel University and then the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts where he met poet William Carlos Williams. He studied abroad and became part of influential art communities wherever he went. In Paris, he met Marsden Hartley who would later introduce him to Alfred Stieglitz; he frequented Gertrude Stein’s influential salons and he knew Picasso, Hemingway, and Marcel Duchamp. He would show his work at Stieglitz’s gallery in New York and frequent the Provincetown Art Colony. Demuth worked in a number of different styles, but he, along with Georgia O’Keeffe and Charles Sheeler, created works that they called Precisionist, inspired by Cubism.

Demuth’s patron, Dr. Alfred C. Barnes, now known for the Barnes Collection in Philadelphia, was responsible for helping him become one of the first people in the United States to receive insulin when he developed diabetes as an adult.

I saw the Figure 5 in Gold, Demuth’s most famous work, was what he called a ‘poster portrait.’ He based these works on objects that referred to the subject, rather than a literal depiction of a sitter. This work references the descriptions in a poem written by William Carlos Williams who was waiting for Marsden Hartley to answer the door.

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