Charles Demuth (1883-1935)
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Charles Demuth (1883-1935)

Fruit and Flower

Details
Charles Demuth (1883-1935)
Fruit and Flower
watercolor and pencil on paper
12 x 18 in. (30.5 x 45.7 cm.)
Executed circa 1925.
Provenance
The artist.
Mrs. Augusta W.B. Demuth, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, mother of the above.
Robert E. Locher, New York and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, by descent.
Estate of the above.
Richard C. Weyand, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, by descent.
Estate of the above.
Sotheby Parke-Bernet, New York, 16 October 1957, lot 56, sold by the above (as Fruit and Flower Group).
The Downtown Gallery, New York, acquired from the above.
Mrs. Suydam Cutting, New York.
Robert Miller Gallery, New York.
[With]James Maroney, Inc., New York, 1980.
Richard Manoogian, Grosse Pointe, Michigan, acquired from the above, 1980.
James Maroney, Inc., New York, acquired from the above, 1986.
Acquired by the late owner from the above, 1986.
Literature
J.E. Malone, “Charles Demuth: Watercolors by Charles Demuth,” Papers of the Lancaster County Historical Society, vol. 52, no. 1, 1948, p. 15 (as Fruit and Flowers).
E. Farnham, “Charles Demuth: His Life, Psychology and Work,” Ph.D. dissertation, Ohio State University, 1959, no. 633.
A.L. Eisman, Charles Demuth, New York, 1982, pp. 74-75, pl. 35, illustrated.
Art in America, vol. 72, February 1984, p. 18, illustrated.
D. Ngo, ed., Art + Architecture: The Ebsworth Collection + Residence, San Francisco, California, 2006, n.p., illustrated.
Exhibited
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Charles Demuth Memorial Exhibition, December 15, 1937-January 16, 1938, no. 99 (as Fruit and Flowers).
Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Franklin and Marshall College, Fackenthal Library, Twenty-Nine Water Colors by Demuth, January 3-11, 1948, no. 21 (as Fruit and Flowers).
New York, The Downtown Gallery, Charles Demuth: 30 Paintings, May 20-June 7, 1958, no. 15 (as Fruit and Flower Group).
New York, James Maroney, Inc., A Small Group of Especially Fine Works on Paper, February 1984, no. 6, illustrated.
St. Louis, Missouri, St. Louis Art Museum; Honolulu, Hawaii, Honolulu Academy of Arts; Boston, Massachusetts, Museum of Fine Arts, The Ebsworth Collection: American Modernism 1911-1947, November 20, 1987-June 5, 1988, pp. 76-77, 201-02, no. 16, illustrated.
Detroit, Michigan, Detroit Institute of Arts, Charles Demuth, August 7-October 2, 1988, no. 81, p. 166, illustrated.
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art; Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Twentieth-Century American Art: The Ebsworth Collection, March 5-November 12, 2000, pp. 84-86, 281, no. 14, illustrated.
Special notice

On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.

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Sara Friedlander
Sara Friedlander

Lot Essay

A member of Alfred Stieglitz’s circle of American Modernists and one of the most prominent Precisionists, Charles Demuth explored his diverse artistic inspirations with a keen attention to draftsmanship, line and color. In the 1920s, around the same time he was executing his famous architectural paintings, such as My Egypt (1927, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York), and his witty symbolic portraits, including I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold (1928, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), Demuth was also fascinated by the sensual, natural beauty to be found within the simplicity of flowers and fruit. His watercolor still lifes from this period are among the best-known works of his career, and Fruit and Flower is an example of Demuth’s mastery in the medium.

In the present work, Demuth creates a picture of vivid beauty, captured with crisp execution and a pure sense of color. During the 20s, he began to more fully explore spatial possibilities, increasingly isolating his still lifes against a white background. Fruit and Flower exemplifies these progressive methods with which Demuth would extract the essential essence of his subject. Using a wash-and-blotter technique, areas of the carefully delineated plums, tomatoes and zinnias have been given texture that allows them to almost shimmer with light, adding a more natural element to the sharp-edged, Precisionist depiction. Additionally, Demuth uses the white of the paper as a forceful element in the painting. Emily Farnham discusses his experimentation with this new artistic device: “Still another factor in Demuth which seems to have affected the New Realism is his frequent use of a pristine, immaculate, antiseptic white ground. It was notably in his watercolor still lifes that he habitually placed exquisitely delineated positive objects (peaches, eggplant, striped kitchen towels) against a luminous unpainted ground. This device has reappeared during the sixties in the works of Californian [Wayne] Thiebaud, who employs pure white grounds behind relief-like human figures as means toward the psychological and technical isolation of his subjects” (E. Farnham, Charles Demuth: Behind a Laughing Mask, Norman, 1971, p. 185). As in his best works, in Fruit and Flower, Demuth employs his visual vocabulary to convey the nuances of color, atmosphere and the effects of light.

Demuth’s Modernist exploration of fruit and flower subjects relates his work to that of his close friend and fellow Stieglitz Circle artist Georgia O’Keeffe. However, while O’Keeffe sought inspiration from a variety of regions, Demuth focused on the local flora in the gardens and markets of his Lancaster, Pennsylvania community. Gerald S. Lestz explains, “His still lifes form a virtual catalogue of the beauties of Lancaster’s flowers, and the lush ripeness of its fruits and vegetables…all readily obtainable from the curb markets near his home, or at the Central or Southern markets, only a little farther away. And it is also likely that some of the flowers may have come from the garden his mother Augusta so carefully tended behind their home on East King Street” (G. S. Lestz, Homage to Charles Demuth: Still Life Painter of Lancaster, Ephrata, 1978, p. 22). As epitomized by Fruit and Flower, the still-life paintings executed in his small studio overlooking this garden represent the most immediate and intimate body of Demuth’s work, and moreover form one of the most important watercolor series of modern American art.

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