The New York Times
February 06, 2004
One of the most graceful and sophisticated of early American modernist painters, Charles Demuth (1883-1935) made his lifelong home in Lancaster, Pa., where his family owned a lucrative tobacco business. He came in contact with European modernism on several trips abroad in the early 1900's and skillfully adapted it to his own lyrical style. He translated Cubism, as the critic Henry McBride said, into Americanism.
This small show has some 30 oils, watercolors and drawings, dating from 1907 to 1933. Unfortunately, it leaves out (with perhaps one exception, "Trees and Houses" of 1916) the crisp architectural images that were a Demuth hallmark; these blended Cubism and Futurism with echoes of orderly Lancaster farm and church buildings and the American industrial landscape.
Still there are some fine things here, among them several pencil drawings that relate to acrobatic performances he probably saw in Lancaster, and a wonderful drawing of a male and female dance team. The woman wears a tutu and, as her bodice, a mask, indicative of the secrecy treasured by Demuth, for whom masks were a frequent motif.
An angular female nude of 1913, several lively scenes of bar, cafe and beach life, and a hazy seascape, all runny whites and blues, testify to Demuth's mastery of watercolor. And there are a number of his famous flower paintings, perhaps inspired by his mother's garden in Lancaster, whose charm and delicacy make them among the best of the genre in American paintings.
Put together by Thomas Holman, an art historian who served as guest curator, this is the first solo Demuth show at a gallery since 1981. If not the strongest of Demuth displays, it is well worth seeing.