Tag Archives: Charles Demuth

Modern Art Monday Presents: Charles Demuth, My Egypt

My Egypt
Photo By Gail

In the 1920s, Charles Demuth (1883 – 1935) painted a remarkable series of “Poster Portraits” depicting friends and fellow artists. Rather than capturing a physical likeness, these works conveyed the subject’s character through arrangements of commonplace objects rendered in the crisp style of advertisements. While Demuth did not include a self-portrait in the series, My Egypt (1927), produced during the same period, suggests a parallel effort to distill his personal and artistic concerns in symbolic terms. This depiction of a newly built grain elevator in the artist’s native Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was the apex of his quest to develop a dynamic geometric style that would herald America’s industrial prowess. By titling the painting My Egypt, Demuth equates the grain elevator with the ancient pyramids, but he also invites a more poignant, intimate reading. When he made this work, Demuth was confined by debilitating illness to his home in Lancaster. Calling the image his Egypt links his hometown to the Biblical narrative of Egypt as a site of involuntary bondage.

Photographed in the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.

Modern Art Monday Presents: I Saw The Figure Five in Gold By Charles Demuth

I Saw the Figure Five in Gold
All Photos By Gail

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:

Figure Five in Gold Poem

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.