Charles Demuth was born on November 8, 1883 in Lancaster, PA and died there on October 23, 1935. Demuth is credited as helping to channel modern European movements into the language of American art during the early decades of the twentieth century. He was a leading watercolorist who turned to oils later in his career.
At the time Demuth was born, Lancaster, PA was an older American community with an authentic elegance to its buildings. He grew up conservatively, even for the time, in a well-to-do, upper-class Lutheran family. With an obvious artistic gift, Demuth studied first at Drexel Institute of Art and, by the Spring of 1905, at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts under Thomas Anschutz, whose realism had spawned that of the most highly regarded Ashcan School painters. Demuth traveled to Europe first in 1907-8, returning amid pre-World War I innovative fervor from 1912-14. Back in America, Alfred Stieglitz admired Demuth greatly and photographed him on a number of occasions, eventually exhibiting his work at his gallery “291”. However, it was Charles Daniel who gave the artist his first one-man exhibition, in October of 1914.
In Paris, as in America, Demuth was fortunate in his circle of friends. He enjoyed the excited café talk of fellow American artists John Marin, Marsden Hartley, Lyonel Feininger, and Arthur Dove, as well as French artists Duchamp, Matisse, Gris, Picasso, Laurencin, and Picabia. It was probably Duchamp's radical approach to art that helped set the stage for the American artist's style. Demuth, along with Georgia O’Keeffe and Charles Sheeler, was a major contributor to the Precisionist art movement, which began to evolve in America around 1915. In 1917 Demuth made the first of his architectonic paintings which subsequently attracted critical attention. His experimentation with Cubism became steadily apparent after this time and is most pronounced in his industrial landscapes. Regarded as important examples of Precisionism and portrayed with order and grace, these works reveal Demuth’s fascination in the configurations of water tanks, smokestacks, fire escapes, pipes, electrical wiring, street lamps, and oil derricks.
Demuth’s watercolors, whether floral or figurative compositions, are perhaps his most lyrical works of art. "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.”
- Johnson, Ken (February 27, 2008). "A Watercolorist Who Turned His Hand to Oils of Heroic Vision". The New York Times.