The correspondence of a celebrated 1920s artist with his famous contemporaries
Letters of Charles Demuth, American Artist, 1883-1935
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With assessments of his work by his contemporaries: A. E. Gallatin, Angela E. Hagen, Marsden Hartley, Helen Henderson, Henry McBride, Carl Van Vechten, Rita Wells, Willard Huntington Wright
edited by Bruce Kellner
Charles Demuth is widely recognized as one of the most significant American modernists. His precisionist cityscapes, exquisite flowers, and free-wheeling watercolors of vaudeville performers, homosexual bathhouses, and cabaret scenes hang in many of the country's most prestigious collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Columbus Museum of Art, the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, the Art Institute of Chicago, and in Demuth's Lancaster, Pennsylvania, family residence, now home of the Demuth Foundation. At a time when many American artists remained tied to Europe, Demuth "Americanized" European modernism.
This collection of 155 of his letters offers valuable views of the arts and letters colonies in Provincetown, New York, and Paris. Besides offering information on Demuth's own works, the letters also shed light on the output of his contemporaries, as well as references to their trips, liaisons, and idiosyncrasies. Demuth numbered among his correspondents some of the most famous artists and writers of his time, inluding Georgia O'Keeffe, Eugene O'Neill, John Reed, Gertrude Stein, Alfred Stieglitz, Carl Van Vechten, and William Carlos Williams. In his travels in the United States and abroad, he encountered many other talented contemporaries: Peggy Bacon, Muriel Draper, Marcel Duchamp, the Stettheimer sisters, artists and writers, patrons, and gallery owners.
Whether he is offering to pick up a copy of Joyce's Ulysses for Eugene O'Neill or trying to convince Georgia O'Keeffe to decorate his music room ("just allow that red and yellow 'canna' one to spread until it fills the room"), Demuth is always in the thick of art and literary life. Flamboyant in attire but descreet in his homosexuality, Demuth also reveals in his letters the life of a talented homosexual in the teens and twenties. With his best friends Robert Locher and Marsden Hartley, he circulated through the art colonies of Greenwich Village, Provincetown, and Paris, meeting everyone.
The book also contains reprints of some short appraisals of Demuth and his work that were published during his lifetime, long out of print, including pieces by A. E. Gallatin, Angela E. Hagen, Marsden Hartley, Helen Henderson, Henry McBride, Carl Van Vechten, Rita Wells, and Willard Huntington Wright.
"I always enjoyed [Charles Demuth]. I though him more fun than the other artists. He was a better friend with me than any of the other artists."
"The main point about his personality is a quaint charm, a quality of appealing, inquisitive friendliness, always willing to listen, eager to sympathize, to like and to be liked."
"Charles traversed the all in all thin area of esthetic experience with a firm step, and he left footprints here and there which have long since been measured and found of the proper size."
"An artist worthy of the name, without the pettiness which affects most artists, worshiping his inner self without the usual eagerness to be right. Demuth was also one of the few artists whom all other artists liked as a real friend, a rare case indeed."
"Editor Bruce Kellner, an emeritus professor of English at Pennsylvania's Millersville University, provides a lucid introduction to Demuth's life and to his work: this 'fashionably high-stepping strutter' may be in for a big, deserved revival."
An Appreciative Appendix: