CHARLES DEMUTH (1883-1935)
CHARLES DEMUTH (1883-1935)
CHARLES DEMUTH (1883-1935)
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CHARLES DEMUTH (1883-1935)


CHARLES DEMUTH (1883-1935)
Demuth, C.
signed and dated 'C. Demuth -1916-' (lower left)
watercolor and pencil on paper
13 x 7 ¾ in. (33 x 19.7 cm.)
Executed in 1916.
The artist.
Carl Van Vechten, New York, by 1937.
Joseph Solomon, New York, acquired from the above.
By descent to the late owner.
E. Farnham, Charles Demuth: His Life, Psychology and Works, vol. 2, Ph.D dissertation, Ohio State University, 1959, p. 482, no. 189.
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Charles Demuth Memorial Exhibition, December 15, 1937-January 16, 1938, no. 29.
New York, The Museum of Modern Art; Detroit, Michigan, Detroit Institute of Arts; Coral Gables, Florida, University of Miami; Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, Winnipeg Art Gallery; Williamstown, Massachusetts, Williams College; Newark, Delaware, University of Delaware; Oberlin, Ohio, Oberlin College, Charles Demuth, March 7, 1950-June 9, 1951, p. 90, no. 40.

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Lot Essay

Vaudeville captured the nation's attention in the late 19th century and, by 1905, this uniquely American form of entertainment had taken to the road, spreading from city centers to rural areas, becoming the country's most popular form of entertainment. Fascinated by this aspect of American culture, Charles Demuth attended vaudeville shows both in New York and in his hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, at the Colonial Theatre and Fulton Opera House. Demuth, along with fellow artists Stuart Davis and Everett Shinn, flocked to the theaters to witness the feats and fantastical costumes of the stage performers.

In the present work, Demuth depicts a juggler supporting a chair with a seated puppy on his head while juggling four balls. Behind the juggler is a decorated parasol in front of a peering clown. This circus imagery places the present work amidst a broader visual tradition; Barbara Haskell writes, “The clown, whether depicted by Watteau, Toulouse-Lautrec, or Picasso, embodied the tragic gap between life’s outer glitter and its inner sadness, the clown thus became a symbol of the artist—isolated from, yet entertainer of, society.” (Charles Demuth, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1987, p. 53) Here, Demuth places the viewers in the audience, as spectators of the theatrical and metaphorical performance. Demuth invents a fresh approach to painting the stage that is not about pictorial specificity, but rather illusion and expression. Another work from this era focusing on the juggler theme can be found in the Barnes Collection, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The original owner of the present work was the writer and photographer Carl Van Vechten.

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