Charles Demuth / The Figure 5 in Gold / 1928Charles Demuth
The Figure 5 in Gold

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Creator Name: Demuth, Charles
Creator Nationality: North American; American
Creator Role: Artist
Creator Dates/Places: American, 1883-1935
Creator Name-CRT: Charles Demuth
Title: The Figure 5 in Gold
View: Full View
Creation Start Date: 1928
Creation End Date: 1928
Creation Date: 1928
Object Type: Paintings
Materials and Techniques: oil on cardboard
Dimensions: H. 35-1/2, W. 30 in.(90.2 x 76.2 cm)
AMICA Contributor: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Owner Location: New York, New York, USA
ID Number: 49.59.1
Credit Line: Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1949

Born and raised in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Charles Demuth studied art at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia intermittently between 1905 and 1908. It was in Philadelphia that the artist first met the American poet and physician William Carlos Williams, the subject of this painting. Demuth continued his art training during trips to Europe between 1907 and 1921. In 1925 he was included in a group exhibition organized by Alfred Stieglitz, who later gave him a few one-man shows at his galleries. When Demuth died at age fifty-one, after suffering from diabetes for much of his life, an important and prolific career was cut short after only twenty years.

Demuth, a versatile artist, tailored his style to his subject matter. His delicate, loosely handled watercolors of fruits and flowers pulsate with subtle, exquisitely balanced color. His paintings of the modern urban and industrial landscape, on the other hand, are tightly controlled, hard, and exact - in a style aptly called Precisionism. Although these works show the influence of Cubism and Futurism, their sense of scale and directness of expression seem entirely American.

"The Figure 5 in Gold" is one of a series of eight abstract portraits of friends, inspired by Gertrude Stein's word-portraits, that Demuth made between 1924 and 1929. This painting pays homage to a poem by William Carlos Williams. Like Marsden Hartley's "Portrait of a German Officer" and Arthur Dove's "Ralph Dusenberry," this portrait consists not of a physical likeness of the artist's friend but of an accumulation of images associated with him - the poet's initials and the names "Bill" and "Carlos" that together form a portrait.

Williams' poem "The Great Figure" describes the experience of seeing a red fire engine with the number 5 painted on it racing through the city streets. While Demuth's painting is not an illustration of Williams's poem, we can certainly sense its "rain/and lights" and the "gong clangs/siren howls/and wheels rumbling." The bold 5 both rapidly recedes and races forward in space, and the round forms of the number, the lights, the street lamp, and the arcs at the lower left and upper right are played against the straight lines of the fire engine, the buildings, and the rays of light, infusing the picture with a rushing energy that perfectly expresses the spirit of the poem.

AMICA ID: MMA_.49.59.1
AMICA Library Year: 2000
Media Metadata Rights: Copyright The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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