I Saw the Figure Five in Gold (1928) is one of my favorite modern paintings; one that I have loved since I was in my teens. To be honest, I am a little bit obsessed with it. That might have something to do with the fact that the painting’s title is a complete sentence. “I Saw the Figure Five in Gold” sounds like something you would say in a dream. I bet you didn’t even know that this painting is actually a Portrait that was loosely inspired by a Fire Engine, but it is.
Here is the Story:
Between 1924 and 1929 Charles Demuth completed eight abstract portraits as tributes to modern American artists, writer, and performers. Though not a physical likeness, Demuth created this portrait of his friend, William Carlos Williams, using imagery from William’s poem, The Great Figure, which evokes sights and sounds of a fire engine speeding down the street. The intersecting lines, repeated “5,” round forms of the numbers, lights, street lamp, and blaring sirens of the red fire engine together infuse the painting with vibrant, urban energy. Demuth derived the painting’s title from the poem, which reads:
Another fun bit of related trivia to know is that the FDNY Engine 5, stationed at East 14th Street between First and Second Avenues, has this painting hanging just inside the entrance to the garage.
Photographed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.