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    Description

    Charles Demuth (American, 1883-1935)
    Floral Still Life, 1922
    Watercolor and pencil on paper
    14 x 10 inches (35.6 x 25.4 cm)
    Signed and dated lower left: C. Demuth / 1922

    PROVENANCE:
    The artist;
    Robert Locher, bequest from the above;
    Private collection, California, circa 1940;
    Sotheby's, New York, 21 September 1994, lot 198;
    Private collection, New York;
    Spanierman Gallery, New York;
    Linda Hyman Fine Arts, New York;
    Alexandre Gallery, New York;
    Salander-O'Reilly Galleries, New York;
    Christie's, New York, December 2, 2004, lot 115;
    Acquired by the present owner from the above.

    EXHIBITED:
    The Demuth Foundation, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, "Charles Demuth: The Later Years," June 1-September 15, 2001.

    "Paintings must be looked at and looked at and looked at - they, I think, the good ones, like it...No writing, no talking, no singing, no dancing will explain them. They are the final, the 'nth whoopee of sight....'Look at that!' is all that can be said before a great painting, at least, by those who really see it."
    -- Charles Demuth in "Across A Greco Is Written," in Creative Art, September 1929.

    Born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1883, Charles Demuth is inarguably one of the greatest watercolorists that the United States has produced. By the time of his death in 1935, he left behind a distinctive and diverse body of work, including theater scenes, portraits, landscapes and still lifes.

    His initial education was of a high level (including study with Thomas Anshutz at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts), but it was his travels to Europe and his education there that cemented his aesthetic. Demuth spent much of the second decade of the century in Paris, where he immersed himself in the avant-garde, and befriended such art world luminaries as Gertrude and Leo Stein, Marsden Hartley and John Marin. Upon his subsequent returns to the United States, he perfected his dandyish, aesthete persona and frequented the clubs and bars of Harlem and Greenwich Village with Marcel Duchamp and other Dadaists.

    This floral still life from 1922 was executed after Demuth's final trip to Europe (suffering from illness throughout his life, he was forced to return to America due to complications from diabetes in 1921). Demuth's work is often categorized as Precisionist, and at other times as decorative, and while these terms may provide a superficial description of his aesthetic, they are, as with all great artists, too confined to describe the depth and wonder of his achievement. In addition to the precision of his work, there is most often a deeply emotive, even elegiac sense in his work. Precisionism implies a sense of the concrete, but this idea is antithetical to Demuth's work, such that it is suffused with ambiguities in both feeling and content. This creates a specific tension in the work, which propels it above the merely decorative and into the realm of the sublimely beautiful.

    The tensions in Demuth's work, and his masterly technique, are on full view in Floral Still Life. This composition of irises, lilies and freesia displays Demuth's aesthetic ambiguities. There is his usual innate rhythmic sense: the flora seemingly, impossibly meanders; yet there also exists a sense of control and harmony. Nothing is out of place. Certain flowers strive upward, while others swoon and droop. A sense of both unbridled nature and inherent logic co-exist.

    Also of great importance is the amount of negative space the artist has allowed; the intimations of what exists around what is shown are limned in the most delicate of graphite lines. A mystery of what isn't seen surrounds the composition, and makes that which is shown even stronger.

    Finally, there is Demuth's coloration and his brilliant application of it. The medium's fluidity is apparent, but so is the artist's ability to control it in for his purposes. There are subtle shifts in the coloration throughout Floral Still Life: reds slowly move into pink, dark greens to bright yellow, reds to rust and orange. And behind the composition is the artist's trademark, expert background; a carefully blotted, floating color field of blues and grays. It is a testament to Demuth's greatness that even gray, a hue usually associated with gloom and heaviness, takes on the character of a beautiful, ethereal presence.


    Estimate: $70,000 - $100,000.

    Condition Report*: Sheet is hinged at top corners verso; light overall paper discoloration with minor matburn and foxing; framed under acrylic.
    Framed Dimensions 19 X 15 Inches
    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Some condition issues may not be noted in the condition report but are apparent in the provided photos which are considered part of the condition report. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

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