Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Charles Demuth: Red Poppies, 1929



Debilitated by diabetes during the last eight years of his life, Demuth's artistic output was also severely curtailed. Ironically, however, his late works, as evidenced by this 1929 watercolor of poppies (so reminiscent of O'Keeffe's poppies of 1927), are some of his boldest in terms of color, draftsmanship, and design. Unlike the luminous transparency of earlier botanical studies, the watercolor here is applied rather opaquely. The spiked contours and gentle curves of the flowers direct our eye around the composition, coming to rest on the large open blossom in the center. Presenting the full cycle of the flower - budding, opening, blooming, and decaying - he also suggests the human life cycle, and perhaps his own diminished physical strength.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Charles Demuth (November 8, 1883 – October 23, 1935) was an American watercolorist who turned to oils late in his career, developing a style of painting known as Precisionism.

"Search the history of American art," wrote Ken Johnson in The New York Times, "and you will discover few watercolors more beautiful than those of Charles Demuth. Combining exacting botanical observation and loosely Cubist abstraction, his watercolors of flowers, fruit and vegetables have a magical liveliness and an almost shocking sensuousness."

Demuth was a lifelong resident of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The home he shared with his mother is now the Demuth Museum, which showcases his work. He graduated from Franklin & Marshall Academy before studying at Drexel University and at Philadelphia's Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. While he was a student at PAFA, he met William Carlos Williams at his boarding house. The two were fast friends and remained close for the rest of their lives.

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.

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