CHARLES DEMUTH was an American painter born on this date, who specialized in watercolors and turned to oils late in his career, developing a style of painting known as Precisionism (d: 1935).
“Search the history of American art,” wrote Ken Johnson in The New York Times, “and you will discover few watercolors more beautiful than those of Charles Demuth. Combining exacting botanical observation and loosely Cubist abstraction, his watercolors of flowers, fruit and vegetables have a magical liveliness and an almost shocking sensuousness.”
Demuth was a lifelong resident of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The home he shared with his mother is now the Demuth Museum, which showcases his work. He graduated from Franklin & Marshall Academy before studying at Drexel University and at Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. While he was a student at PAFA, he participated in a show at the Academy, and also met William Carlos Williams at his boarding house. The two were fast friends and remained close for the rest of their lives.
He later studied at Académie Colarossi and Académie Julian in Paris, where he became a part of the avant garde art scene. The Parisian artistic community was accepting of Demuth’s sexuality. After his return to America, Demuth retained aspects of Cubism in many of his works.
Demuth, a gay artist, was a regular patron at the Lafayette Baths. His sexual exploits there are the subject of watercolors, including his 1918 homoerotic self-portrait set in a Turkish bathhouse. Demuth spent most of his life in frail health. By 1920, the effects of diabetes had begun to severely drain Demuth of artistic energy. He died at his residence in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania at the age 51 of complications from diabetes. He is buried at the Lancaster Cemetery.