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    Description

    CHARLES DEMUTH (American, 1883-1935)
    Tulips, 1923
    Watercolor and pencil on paper
    14 x 10 inches (35.6 x 25.4 cm)
    Signed and dated lower left: C. Demuth / 1923

    PROPERTY FROM THE KING COLLECTION, TEXAS

    PROVENANCE:
    Sotheby's, New York, May 29, 1986, lot 145;
    Private collection, Massachusetts, acquired from the above;
    Martha Parrish & James Reinish, Inc., New York, 2009;
    Private collection, New York, acquired from the above;
    James Reinish & Associates, Inc., New York, 2012;
    Acquired by the present owner from the above, April 2012.

    EXHIBITED:
    El Paso Museum of Art, El Paso, Texas, "Modern American Painting 1907-1936: The Maria and Barry King Collection," September 8, 2013-January 5, 2014, no. 46.

    LITERATURE:
    P.S. Cable, Modern American Painting 1907-1936: The Maria and Barry King Collection, exhibition catalogue, El Paso Museum of Art, El Paso, Texas, 2013, pp. 119-21, no. 46, illustrated.

    Charles Demuth is considered a chief advocate of the Cubist-influenced style of Precisionism, an approach he used to paint sites of his beloved hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Yet Demuth's looser watercolors are arguably his most popular works. Although he investigated a number of subjects in the early 1920s, including buildings, abstract poster portraits, and still lifes, by the late 1920s and early '30s, Demuth dedicated himself chiefly to still-life painting alone, working for nearly six years developing his distinctive watercolor technique. His paintings from this period remain some of his finest achievements, and firmly establish him as one of America's most accomplished watercolorists.

    Demuth's richly painted flowers are almost invariably common ones that might be found in any garden. In most of the watercolors from the 1920s, Demuth's preferred subjects are not hothouse flowers, but rather everyday ones, seemingly haphazardly arranged in tribute to their natural beauty. To this ordinary subject matter, Demuth applied a uniquely modern approach, particularly in his later still lifes, which often revolve around his use of "negative" space. In these works, he often used the stark white of the paper, or a pale translucent wash, as a forceful element in the painting. This development deviates from his earlier style of utilizing the entire surface of the watercolor paper, often painting backgrounds completely in broad washes of purple or grey. By the 1920s, Demuth began to more fully explore the spatial possibilities of his subjects, increasingly isolating fruit or flowers against a white background, and relying on spare pencil lines to suggest details. In this way, Demuth created a tension between painted and unpainted elements in his still life compositions.

    In her book on Demuth, 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" (Charles Demuth: Behind a Laughing Mask, Norman, Oklahoma, 1971, p. 185).

    Tulips exemplifies Demuth's progressive method, most prominently with the two unpainted "white" tulips defined chiefly by their outlines, and surrounded by bursts of pure primary color. Dr. Patrick Cable writes, "In...Tulips, Demuth focuses formally on the sinuous curves of tulip stems and petals, and technically on a range of pigmentation moving from deep saturation to no point at all, where the thin contour lines of graphite stand alone. One of the most beautiful results of this process occurs in the interweaving of stems, which seem to sway in the wind or disappear and reappear under the effects of silvery glinting light" (Modern American Painting 1907-1936: The Maria and Barry King Collection, exhibition catalogue, El Paso, Texas, 2013, p. 119).

    With Tulips, Demuth creates a stunning floral representation captured through crisp draftsmanship, daring color sense, and innovative manipulation of pictorial space. In a tribute to the artist following his death, the critic Henry McBride acknowledged the artist's brilliant achievement, noting that "the proper place for a Demuth flower, I sometimes think, is in the hands of an educated gardener--one who knows what a flower is and what an artist is." (as quoted in S.W. Reed, et al., Awash in Color: Homer, Sargent, and the Great American Watercolor, Boston, Massachusetts, 1993, p. 213).

    This work has been titled, dated and numbered 'ALE-11' by the late Dr. Alvord L. Eiseman.


    Condition Report*: Sheet appears to be hinged to mount in the reverse sheet corners; overall paper discoloration, particularly in the upper right and lower left quadrants; scattered pinpoints of foxing. This painting is framed using Optium (museum acrylic glazing), which provides clear legibility for examination with both white light and black light. In order to maintain the integrity and airtight sealing of the housing, the painting was not viewed out of the frame for the condition report. Should you wish to have a more extensive report, we recommend firsthand inspection by a professional conservator. For assistance, please contact the department.
    *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.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    November, 2014
    17th Monday
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