Van Gogh •
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Charles Demuth, the first American Cubist-Realist, was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. After early schooling, he entered
the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1905, and studied with Thomas Anschutz. Demuth spent 1907 in Paris, London,
and Berlin, then returned to the Pennsylvania Academy in 1908. He made a second trip to Paris in 1912, studying at three
academies: Modern, Julian, and Colarossi. His first one-man show, in 1915, offered watercolor landscapes and flower pieces
in a free and delicate style-the landscapes reminiscent of Marin, and the flower studies of Rodin's paintings. For the next
four years, Demuth amused himself with book illustration choosing romantic, imaginative books by Edgar Allan Poe,
Henry James, and Emile Zola, which were well suited to his style and personal tastes. Between 1917 and 1919 he painted a
series of theatrical works, stronger in color, firmer in composition, and much more lively in concept, as if he were
projecting into his works his own need for vitality.
Like Toulouse-Lautrec, Demuth was lame all his life and
therefore turned to the theater for inspiration.
Beginning in 1919, Demuth began to use two types of abstractions: one was soft, with symbolic forms which were often
enclosed in circular frames; the other was hard, encompassing flat, prismatic shapes, crisscrossing diagonals, and
streams of light. His subjects were industrial motifs, ships, and simple country architecture. The forms in these works
remind us of Feininger but Demuth's work is harder in effect, sharply
clean in its edges, and much more strikingly visual in impact. Demuth worked in both oil and tempera, applying these in a
dry, economical manner that permitted a literal transposition of natural and architectural motifs into paint. He never lost
his fine sense of color or his underlying humor. In an almost photographic and very cold form, Demuth's Cubist-Realism
carries over into the works of his contemporaries Charles Sheeler, Preston Dickinson, and Niles Spencer. This impeccable
technique, visible also in the flower studies, which occupied Demuth from 1925 until his death, also affected the Pop Art
movement of the 1960's.