Connect with us

DailyArtMagazine.com – Art History Stories

Charles Demuth And The Figure 5 (Painting Of The Week)

20th century

Charles Demuth And The Figure 5 (Painting Of The Week)

The Great Figure
By William Carlos Williams
Among the rain
and lights
I saw the figure 5
in gold
on a red
firetruck
moving
tense
unheeded
to gong clangs
siren howls
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city.

This one-sentence poem, by the American poet William Carlos Williams, was the inspiration for an incredible abstract work by American artist, Charles Demuth, I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold (1928).

Charles Demuth, The Figure 5 in Gold (1928) The Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, New York

Charles Demuth, The Figure 5 in Gold (1928) The Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, New York

Demuth and Williams were good friends and the story goes that Williams was walking along Ninth Avenue in New York, one evening when the clanging sounds of a fire truck broke through his revery.  Turning, he saw the number of the red truck speeding away.  Williams, who at the time was creating poems that were precise, clean, devoid of metaphor, concentrated on the sight and sound of this common event to evoke the speed and anxiety that the sound of sirens can create in a person.

William_Carlos_Williams_passport_photograph_1921

Passport photograph of American poet and medical doctor William Carlos Williams. Image courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University.


 

Demuth - Self Portrait - portrait

Charles Demuth, Self Portrait, 1907, oil on canvas, 26 1/16 x 18 in., The Demuth Museum Collection, gift of Margaret Lestz.

This lack of figurative language matched the style of the Precisionist painters, of whom, Charles Demuth was a leading exponent. Works such as After Sir Christopher Wren, 1920,

Charles Demuth, After Sir Christopher Wren, 1920, watercolor, gouache, pencil on cardboard; 60.5 x 51 cm (Metropolitan Museum of Art)


And My Egypt, 1927 used such devices as, rectangles and triangles to portray light diffraction and geometric shapes for buildings. In scenes devoid of human interaction, the Precisionists celebrated the new and the bold as the 20th century progressed.

my-egypt-1927

Charles Demuth, My Egypt, 1927. oil on fiberboard, 90.8 × 76.2 cm (Whitney Museum of American Art)

In this 1928 work, Demuth concentrates on the number designation of the fire truck as speeds away from our viewpoint. Oil, graphite, ink, and gold leaf on paperboard combine to create a vibrant abstract. The circular elements of the number are reflected in the lights on the back of the truck and the repetition of the gold ‘5’ creates a sense of depth. Elements of the fire truck are still obvious: the axle, the lamps, the ladder and the abstracted forms of the rain, represented by grey streaks across the canvas, cause the red of the truck stand out even more.


Not only did Demuth use ekphrasis: the interpretation of poetry in art form, as a way of immortalising his friend’s work, he also placed the poet’s initials ‘WCW’ and the name ‘BILL’ in the painting in honour of their friendship. What is interesting is that the two works are now symbiotic – to understand the painting, one needs to hear the poem; to visualise the poem, the painting allows the viewer to experience what Williams did on that rainy night in New York.

Find out more:

  

Teacher by trade; art lover by choice. Like all manner of artists and movements but somehow always end up back in 1910!

Comments

More in 20th century

  • roy lichtenstein multiple visions roy lichtenstein multiple visions

    20th century

    Roy Lichtenstein Multiple Visions at MUDEC

    By

    “Everyone knows me for comics and dots” Lichtenstein once said to Gianni Mercurio, the curator of Roy Lichtenstein Multiple Visions. For sure Roy Lichtenstein is known as one of the most important figures in 20th century art and a Pop Art icon, but in this exhibition...

  • 19th Century

    The Beginning of a New World at Kröller-Müller Museum

    By

    The Beginning of a new World: The Development of Modern Sculpture is the newest exhibition at the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, Netherlands. It pays tribute to the unique vision and incredible sculptural acquisitions of Bram Hammacher, the museum’s director from 1948-1963. Jannet de Goede, current Head...

  • I was a Rich Man's Plaything 1947 by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi 1924-2005 I was a Rich Man's Plaything 1947 by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi 1924-2005

    dailyart

    Painting of the Week: Eduardo Paolozzi, I was a Rich Man’s Plaything

    By

    Eduardo Paolozzi’s 1947 collage I was a Rich Man’s Plaything, which can be seen in the Tate Modern in London, was one of the first works of Pop Art and even contains the word ‘POP!’ Eduardo Paolozzi was born in 1924 in Leith, a port in...

  • 20th century

    Black Is Beautiful: Kwame Brathwaite at the Skirball Center

    By

    Let’s play a game: pick up any magazine from a U.S. newsstand and count how many people of color are featured. Now try playing with a magazine from the 1950’s. Depending on which magazine you chose, the difference may not be all that striking. But the...

  • Cubism

    Tarsila do Amaral: Joy Is the Decisive Test

    By

    Tarsila do Amaral left behind 230 paintings, five sculptures, and hundreds of drawings, prints and murals. She led Brazilian art into modernism. In her home country, she is a household name.  She was a socialite, fashionista, divorcee, who lived how she wanted. She was adored and...

To Top

Just to let you know, DailyArt Magazine’s website uses cookies to personalise content and adverts, to provide social media features and to analyse traffic. Read cookies policy