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    Sale 1911

    Important American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture

    29 November 2007, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 29

    Charles Demuth (1883-1935)

    Negro Girl Dancer

    Price Realised  


    Charles Demuth (1883-1935)
    Negro Girl Dancer
    signed 'Demuth' (on the reverse)
    watercolor and pencil on paper
    13 x 7¾ in. (33 x 19.7 cm.)
    Executed in 1916.

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    Living in New York in the early Jazz era, Charles Demuth was captivated by the city's emerging music scene and often frequented nightclubs such as Marshall's, which was the inspiration for a series of watercolors including Negro Girl Dancer. Located in the basement of a hotel of the same name, on West Fifty-Third Street under the Sixth Avenue elevated train, the club's patrons included the artist Florine Stettheimer and the art critic Henry McBride, among others, who were drawn to the club's uninhibited environment and superb musicians. In Negro Girl Dancer, "the artist has achieved a steaminess and intensity of performance typical of such bars and nightclubs in this New York jazz era. One can almost feel the closeness of the performers to the patrons in this pre-Prohibition bar where such famous jazz personalities as Florence Dunbar and Bill Bailey appeared." (A.L. Eiseman, Charles Demuth, New York, 1982, p. 38)

    James Weldon Johnson, a resident of the Marshall Hotel wrote of the club in his book Black Manhattan, "the Marshall, run by Jimmie Marshall, an accomplished Boniface, became famous as the headquarters of Negro talent. There gathered the actors, the musicians, the composers, the writers, and the better-paid vaudevillians; and there one went to get a close-up of Cole and Johnson, Williams and Walker, Ernest Hogan, Will Marion Cook, Jim Europe, Ada Overton, Abbie Mitchell, Al Johns, Theodore Drury, Will Dixon, and Ford Dabney. Paul Laurence Dunbar was often there. A good many white actors and musicians also frequented the Marshall, and it was no unusual thing for some among the biggest Broadway stars to run up there for an evening...Indeed, the Marshall for nearly ten years was one of the sights of New York, for it was gay, entertaining and interesting. To be a visitor there, without at the same time being a rank outsider, was a distinction." (as quoted in E. Farnham, Charles Demuth: His Life, Psychology and Works, vol. I, Ph.D. dissertation, Ohio State University, 1959, p. 118)

    Negro Girl Dancer captures the energy and rhythm of the nightclub. Demuth employs a loose and expressive application of richly saturated washes that embody the fluidity, motion and intensity of the scene. He varies the density of the brown background, at times leaving bare paper to create a pulsing effect, which conveys the sound and rhythm of the music. He outlines the figures and instruments with pencil and fills them in with broad swaths of color, paying particular attention to the faces. Forms in the composition are sinuous and layered and the space is compressed to convey the confined space of the stage.

    In addition to the present work, Demuth also painted Negro Jazz Band (1916, location unknown) and two versions of At Marshall's (1915, location unknown and 1917, The Barnes Foundation, Merion, Pennsylvania). "[T]hese pictorial and social documents of the pre-20s Jazz age were developed with great spontaneity. Rapid movement is suggested and one has the sense of delicate balancing of muscular tensions. The line vibrates and the performers are presented in exaggerated manneristic forms. Characterization of the performers themselves is not stressed but rhythmic patterns of body movements are, as is the frequently grotesque quality of the situation. One has only to note the tightly organized Vaudeville Musicians and Negro Girl Dancer. Whether abstractly or directly, Demuth was constantly cultivating the rhythmic aspects of America and the era in which he lived." (P. Plous in D. Gebhard, eds., Charles Demuth: The Mechanical Encrusted on the Living, exhibition catalogue, Santa Barbara, California, 1971, p. 18)

    Demuth was the only one of his contemporaries to focus a significant portion of his work during the late 1910s to capturing New York's bohemian nightlife. In addition to their role in an art historical context, they also exist as social documents of an exciting time in the city's development. "It was the period which witnessed the emergence of jazz, and Demuth created valuable first-hand visual records, the only ones in art, of this cultural phenomenon and its milieu." (E. Farnham, Charles Demuth: Behind a Laughing Mask, Norman, Oklahoma, 1971, p. 103)


    The artist.
    (Possibly) Daniel Gallery, New York.
    Robert Laurent, Brooklyn Heights, New York.
    Kennedy Galleries, Inc., New York.
    Acquired by the present owner from the above.


    R. Weyand, Scrapbooks, no. 688.
    E. Farnham, Charles Demuth: His Life, Psychology and Works, vol. II, Ph.D. dissertation, Ohio State University, 1959, p. 486, no. 198.
    E. Farnham, Charles Demuth: Behind a Laughing Mask, Norman, Oklahoma, 1971, p. 103.
    D. Gedhard and P. Plous, Charles Demuth: The Mechanical Encrusted on the Living, exhibition catalogue, Santa Barbara, California, 1971, pp. 18, 33, 80, no. 28, illustrated.
    B. Haskell, Charles Demuth, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1987, pp. 80-81, no. 19, illustrated (as Negro Jazz Band).
    M. Rock, "Village Writers," 1990.
    G.C. McElroy, Facing History: The Black Image in American Art 1710-1940, exhibition catalogue, San Francisco, California, 1990, p. 110, illustrated.
    A. Heller, 1915: The Cultural Moment, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1991.
    E. Goldson, ed., Seeing Jazz: Artists and Writers on Jazz, Washington, D.C., 1997, p. 111, illustrated.


    New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Pioneers of Modern Art in America, April 2-May 12, 1946, no. 26.
    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. 28.
    New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, and elsewhere, Charles Demuth, October 14, 1987-January 17, 1988, no. 19 (as Negro Jazz Ba and).
    Washington, D.C., The Corcoran Gallery of Art, and elsewhere, Facing History: The Black Image in American Art, 1710-1940, January 13-March 25, 1990, no. 96.
    Evanston, Illinois, Northwestern University, Mary and Leigh Block Gallery, The Modernist Tradition in American Watercolors, 1911-1939, April 5-June 22, 1991.
    Stamford, Connecticut, Whitney Museum of American Art at One Champion Plaza, Steppin' Out: New York Nightlife, 1900-1950, September 5-November 6, 1991.