Charles Demuth

Art on This Day
American painter Charles Henry Buckius Demuth was born on this day in 1883, Lancaster, Pennyslvania. Demuth begun his career using watercolor and slowly transitioned to oil, where he pioneered and developed the style of painting known as Precisionism.
 
Demuth studied art at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia intermittently between 1905 and 1908. From 1909 and onwards, Demuth maintained a gay relationship with Robert Evans Locher, an Art Deco interior decorator and stage designer. He later studied at Académie Colarossi and Académie Julian in Paris, where he became a part of the avant garde art scene. The Parisian artistic community was accepting of Demuth's homosexuality. While in Paris, Demuth met a group of American artists, one in particular being Marsden Hartley, and through Hartley he then met Alfred Stieglitz and became a member of the Stieglitz group. By 1926, he had a one –man show at a New York gallery ran by Stieglitz.  Demuth frankly depicted the evolving "gay scene" in watercolors for his closest friends: sexual encounters in baths, sailors fondling one another while urinating, public sex at Coney Island. Historically, these works have great significance, for they visualize the emergence of a culture very differently organized than "straight" society.
 
His most famous painting, The Figure 5 in Gold (also sometimes called I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold), was inspired by his friend William Carlos William's poem The Great Figure. This is one of nine poster portraits Demuth created to honor his creative friends. He painted poster portraits for artists Georgia O’Keeffe, Arthur Dove, Charles Duncan, Marsden Hartley, John Marin and for the writers Gertrude Stein, Eugene O’Neill, Wallace Stevens and Williams. Plagued by illness all his life, Demuth suffered either an injury when he was four years old or may have had polio or tuberculosis of the hip that left him with a marked limp and required him to use a cane. He also later developed diabetes and was one of the first people in the United States to receive insulin. He spent most of his life in frail health, and he died in Lancaster at age 51 of complications from diabetes. Demuth was a versatile artist and tailored his style to suit his subject matter. His delicate watercolors of fruits and flowers are lyrical evocations of nature, while his paintings of the modern urban and industrial landscape, on the other hand, are tightly controlled, hard, and exact. Aptly called Precisionist, his work represent the influence of European Cubism and Futurism, but their sense of scale and directness of expression seem entirely American.