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    Sale 1911

    Important American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture

    29 November 2007, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 28

    Charles Demuth (1883-1935)

    At "The Golden Swan," Sometimes Called the "Hell Hole"

    Price Realised  

    Estimate

    Charles Demuth (1883-1935)
    At "The Golden Swan," Sometimes Called the "Hell Hole"
    signed and dated 'C.Demuth 1919' (lower center)--inscribed with title (lower right)
    watercolor and pencil on paper
    8 x 10½ in. (20.3 x 26.7 cm.)


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    Upon arriving in New York from his hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Charles Demuth was immediately drawn to the Bohemian culture of Greenwich Village. He spent much of his early career indulging in and capturing the vitality of the city's vaudeville, cabaret and nightclubs. In At "The Golden Swan," Sometimes Called "Hell Hole" the artist depicts himself and Marcel Duchamp, the acclaimed French Dadaist, seated at the left table of the popular meeting spot for young artists and bohemians. Other patrons included the artist John Sloan, who produced an etching of the bar in 1917, and the playwright Eugene O'Neill, who incorporated it into some of his plays including The Iceman Cometh.

    As noted by historians Arthur and Barbara Gelb in their book, O'Neill, "The Hell Hole was a representative Irish saloon. It had a sawdust covered floor, rude wooden tables, and was filled with the smell of sour beer and mingled sounds of alcoholic woe and laughter. Its barroom was entered from the corner of Sixth Avenue and Fourth Street--the 'front room,' in which women were not allowed. Above the doorway swung a wooden sign decorated with a tarnished gilt swan. Farther east, on Fourth Street, was the 'family entrance,' a glass door that gave access to a small, dank, gaslit chamber known as the 'backroom.' Wooden tables clustered about a smoking potbellied stove, and it was here that respectable Irish widows came to cry into their five-cent mugs of beer..." (as quoted in B. Fahlman, Pennsylvania Modern: Charles Demuth of Lancaster, exhibition catalogue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1983, p. 38)

    Demuth's use of thin washes and slight pencil lines allows him to imbue the picture with narrative and suggestive, even raucous details. His delicate approach to the squalid scene and wry, ironic title manifests Wanda Corn's observation that, "Demuth was an ironist and an early pop culturist who spent his entire career trying to figure out how to reconcile his desire to paint beautiful pictures with his need to embrace and be reconciled with the ugliness and vulgarity of the city streets." (The Great American Thing: Modern Art and National Identity, 1915-1935, Berkeley, California, 1999, pp. 216-17) In At "The Golden Swan," Sometimes Called "Hell Hole" it seems to be a vulgarity of his own choosing and one that delighted him.

    Provenance

    The artist.
    Robert Locher, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 1935.
    Richard Weyand, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 1956.
    Herbert S. Levy, Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
    Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, 29 May 1981, lot 76.
    Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., New York, 1981.
    Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1982.


    Literature

    R. Weyand, Scrapbooks, no. 679.
    A.C. Ritchie, Charles Demuth Retrospective Exhibition, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1950, pp. 17, 91, no. 100, illustrated.
    E. Farnham, Charles Demuth: His Life, Psychology and Works, Ph.D. dissertation, vol. II, Ohio State University, 1959, pp. 651-52, no. 604.
    E. Farnham, Charles Demuth: Behind a Laughing Mask, Norman, Oklahoma, 1971, p. 98.
    D. Gebhard and P. Plous, Charles Demuth: The Mechanical Encrusted on the Living, exhibition catalogue, Santa Barbara, California, 1971, pp. 18, 45, 82, no. 57, illustrated.
    A. Eiseman, A Study of the Development of an Artist: Charles Demuth, Ph.D. dissertation, New York Univeristy, 1974, pp. 248, 256, 257.
    B. Fahlman, Pennsylvania Modern: Charles Demuth of Lancaster, exhibition catalogue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1983, p. 38, no. 12, illustrated.
    B. Haskell, Charles Demuth, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1987, pp. 59, 80, no. 18, illustrated (as At the Golden Swan).
    W.M. Corn, The Great American Thing: Modern Art and National Identity, 1915-1935, Berkeley, California, 1999, p. 217, illustrated (as At the Golden Swan).


    Exhibited

    New York, The Museum of Modern Art, and elsewhere, Charles Demuth Retrospective Exhibition, March 1950-June 1951, no. 100.
    Santa Barbara, California, University of California, The Art Galleries, and elsewhere, Charles Demuth: The Mechanical Encrusted on the Living, October 5-November 14, 1971, no. 57.
    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania Modern: Charles Demuth of Lancaster, July 16-September 11, 1983, no. 12.
    New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, and elsewhere, Charles Demuth, October 14, 1987-January 17, 1988 (as At the Golden Swan).
    New York, Museum of the City of New York, Within Bohemian Borders: Greenwich Village 1830-1930, October 2, 1990-February 3, 1991.
    Stamford, Connecticut, Whitney Museum of American Art at One Champion Plaza, and elsewhere, Steppin' Out: New York Nightlife, 1900-1950, September 5-November 6, 1991.
    Katonah, New York, Katonah Museum of Art, Family and Friends: Portraiture in the Work of Florine Stettheimer, September-November 1993.