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Charles Demuth

Born: 1883, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, United States of America
Died: 1935, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, United States of America

Welcome to Our City
1921

Oil on canvas
Image: 25 1/8 x 20 1/8 in. (63.8 x 51.1 cm)
Frame: 29 3/4 x 24 3/4 in. (75.6 x 62.9 cm)
Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1993.3
Signed: Lower left: C. Demuth/1921
Artist Name: []

Interpretation

Welcome to Our City is Charles Demuth’s image of a courthouse dome rising above utilitarian walls and roofs punctuated by chimneys and a single blank window. Echoing the curves of the dome are a series of radiating arced planes tinted in graduated tones of pale pink and blue, suggesting sky. Any illusion of a conventional landscape is countered, however, by the flat black section in the upper left corner, where the partly concealed letters I, TH, and S hint at an undecipherable text. Like the rough texture of the paint applied between precise lines throughout the painting, these letters—in the stark style of commercial graphics—emphasize the flat two-dimensionality of the painting surface. Demuth takes an impersonal, detached approach to the cityscape, while enlivening the composition with strong contrasts of color and tone, a rhythmic balance of dynamic curves in the upper and lower portions of the image, and the jaunty contrasting angles at which the buildings thrust upward.

This work is one of a group of paintings from the early 1920s in which Demuth explored industrial and civic architecture in and around his native Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In many of the works he abandoned his habitual watercolor for the more opaque effects and strong color of oil and tempera paint. Distorting and simplifying forms into flattened interlocking planes and sharp lines, he pioneered the modernist mode called Precisionism. It drew on Cubism’s reduction of forms to their geometric components. Demuth’s penchant for ironic titles and the incorporation of seemingly nonsensical but evocative word fragments also reveal his indebtedness to the movement known as Dada, whose leading figures belonged to the New York artistic circles in which he moved in the mid-1910s. The title of this work evokes the cheerful platitudes of civic boosterism embodied by the dignified courthouse dome. In contrast, the letters at upper right insinuate a subversive message that has been interpreted as the phrase “this is shit.”

Urban settings and architecture had preoccupied Demuth during his final visit to Paris, in 1921, during which he completed Rue du singe qui pêche (TF 1999.44). Severe attacks of the diabetes that would eventually cut short his life forced Demuth to return to Lancaster. Working from the upstairs of his family’s old home, from which he had a view of the city’s 1855 domed courthouse, he felt cut off from the lively art world of New York. At the same time, he was among many American modernists who recognized that so-called regional settings could be an essential source of subjects and inspiration for a truly national modern art. As highlighted in Welcome to Our City and other works, the encroachment of modern industrial infrastructure on historical architecture signals the relentless momentum of American progress.

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Provenance

The artist
Georgia O'Keeffe, New York, 1935 (inherited)
The Downtown Gallery
Max Miller, Florida, 1952
Descended in family until 1992
Sotheby's New York, New York, December 3, 1992, lot 153
Berry-Hill Galleries, Inc., New York, New York (agent), Terra Foundation for the Arts Collection, Chicago, Illinois, 1993

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Exhibition History

Recent Paintings by Charles Demuth, The Daniel Gallery, New York, New York, (organizer). Venue: The Daniel Gallery, New York, New York, December 1922–January 1923, no. 1.

American Paintings, 1900–1950, Joe and Emily Lowe Gallery, University of Miami, Miami, Florida (organizer). Venue: Joe and Emily Lowe Gallery, University of Miami, Miami, Florida, February 25–March 14, 1952, as Entrance to the City. [exh. cat.]

Charles Demuth, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York (organizer). Venues: Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York, October 15, 1987–January 17, 1988; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California, February 25–April 24, 1988; Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, Ohio, May 8–July 10, 1988; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, California, August 4–October 2, 1988. [exh. cat.]

Collection Cameo, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, July 1994.

Visions of a Nation: Exploring Identity through American Art, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, August 10, 1996–January 12, 1997.

Ville et campagne: les artistes américains, 1870–1920 (The City and the Country: American Perspectives, 1870–1920), Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France (organizer). Venues: Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France, April 1–July 15, 1999; Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, December 10, 1999–May 7, 2000 (in modified form). [exh. cat.]

Figures and Forms: Selections from the Terra Foundation for the Arts, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, May 9–July 9, 2000.

L'Amérique et les modernes, 1900–1950 (American Moderns, 1900–1950), Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France (organizer). Venue: Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France, July 25–October 31, 2000. [exh. cat.]

D'une colonie à une collection: le Musée d'Art Américain Giverny fête ses dix ans (From a Colony to a Collection: Celebrating the Tenth Anniversary of the Musée d'Art Américain Giverny), Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France (organizer). Venue: Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France, March 30–June 16, 2002.

A Place on the Avenue: Terra Museum of American Art Celebrates 15 Years in Chicago, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, November 16, 2002–February 16, 2003.

Paris, capitale de l'Amérique: l'avant-garde américaine à Paris (A Transatlantic Avant-Garde: American Artists in Paris, 1918–1939), Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France (organizer). Venues: Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France, August 31–November 30, 2003; Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma, Washington, December 18, 2003-March 2004; Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, April 17–June 27, 2004. [exh. cat.]

Expanded Galleries of American Art with Loans from the Terra Foundation for American Art Collection, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, April 15, 2005–January 2007.

Art in America: 300 Years of Innovation, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York, NY and Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, IL (organizers). Venues: National Museum of China, Beijing, China, February 9–April 5, 2007; Shanghai Museum, Shanghai, China, April 30–June 30, 2007; Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art, Shanghai, China, April 30–June 30, 2007. (Shanghai presentations ran concurrently); The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, Russia, July 23–September 9, 2007; Guggenheim Bilbao, Bilbao, Spain, October 15, 2007–April 27, 2008 (exhibited through January 13, 2008). [exh. cat.]

Galleries of American Art with Loans from the Terra Foundation for American Art Collection, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, June 2008–October 2012.

Art Across America, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas; National Museum of Korea, Seoul, South Korea; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizers). Venues: National Museum of Korea, Seoul, February 4– May 12, 2013; Daejeon Museum of Art, Daejeon, South Korea, June 7–September 1, 2013. [exh. cat.]

America: Painting a Nation, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, Illinois, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia (organizers). Venue: Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, November 9, 2013–February 8, 2014. [exh. cat]

Galleries of American Art with Loans from the Terra Foundation for American Art Collection, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, April 2014–present.

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Published References

American Painting 1900–1950. (exh. cat., Lowe Gallery, University of Miami). Miami, FL: Lowe Gallery, 1952. Text p. 1, cat. no. 12 (as Entrance to the City).

Farnham, Emily. Charles Demuth: His Life, Psychology and Works. PhD dissertation, Ohio State University, 1959. Vol. II. Text pp. 108, 575, no. 416.

Farnham, Emily. Charles Demuth: Behind a Laughing Mask. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971. Text p. 120.

Eiseman, Alvord L. Charles Demuth. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1982. Text p. 17.

Fahlman, Betsy. Pennsylvania Modern: Charles Demuth of Lancaster. (exh. cat., Philadelphia Museum of Art). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1983. Text p. 20.

Haskell, Barbara. Charles Demuth. (exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art). New York: Whitney Museum of American Art in association with Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 1987. Ill. p. 131 (black & white).

Falhman, Betsy.”Charles Demuth’s Paintings of Lancaster Architecture: New Discoveries and Observations.” Arts Magazine 61, no. 7 (March 1987): 24-29. Text p. 24; ill. p. 24, fig.2 (black & white).

Falhman, Betsy. “The Charles Demuth Retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art” Arts Magazine 62 (March 1988): 52-54. Text p. 53.

Sotheby's New York, New York (Sale 6373, December 3, 1992): lot 153. Text, lot 153; ill. cover (color), lot 153 (color).

Art & Auction (October 1993): cover. Ill. cover.

Weinberg, Jonathon. Speaking for Vice: Homosexuality in the Art of Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley, and the First American Avant-Garde. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1993. Text pp. 214, 21; ill. p. 215, fig. 74 (color).

Welcome to Our City, Charles Demuth. Collection Cameo sheet, Terra Museum of Art, Chicago, Illinois, July 1994. Ill. (black & white).

Cartwright, Derrick R. The City and the Country: American Perspectives, 1870–1920. (exh. cat., Musée d'Art Américain Giverny). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 1999. Text p. 24 (checklist); ill. p. 30 (color).

Cartwright, Derrick R. Ville et campagne: les artistes américains, 1870–1920. (exh. cat., Musée d'Art Américain Giverny). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 1999. Text p. 24 (checklist); ill. p. 30 (color).

Cartwright, Derrick R. and Paul J. Karlstrom. American Moderns, 1900–1950. (exh. cat., Musée d'Art Américain Giverny). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2000. Ill. p. 2 (color).

Cartwright, Derrick R. and Paul J. Karlstrom. L'Amérique et les modernes, 1900–1950. (exh. cat., Musée d'Art Américain Giverny). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2000. Ill. p. 2 (color).

Cartwright, Derrick. "The City and Country: American Perspectives, 1870–1920." American Art Review 7, no. 1 (January-February 2000): 100–11. Ill. p. 108 (color).

Bourguignon, Katherine M. and Elizabeth Kennedy. An American Point of View: The Daniel J. Terra Collection. Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2002. Text pp. 172, 194; ill. pp. 14 (color), 173 (color), 194 (black & white).

Bourguignon, Katherine M. and Elizabeth Kennedy. Un regard transatlantique. La collection d'art américain de Daniel J. Terra. Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2002. Text pp. 172, 194; ill. cover (color detail), pp. 14 (color), 173 (color), 194 (black & white).

Derouet, Christian et al. "Paris, capitale de l'Amérique." L'avant-garde américaine à Paris, 1918–1939. Edited by Sophie Lévy. (exh. cat., Musée d'Art Américain Giverny). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2003. Ill. p. 53, cat. no. 23 (color).

Derouet, Christian et al. A Transatlantic Avant-Garde: American Artists in Paris, 1918–1939. Edited by Sophie Lévy. (exh. cat., Musée d'Art Américain Giverny). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2003. Ill. p. 53, cat. no. 23 (color).

Mullaney, Tom. "Terra's Next Move." Art & Antiques (September 2003): 21. Text p. 21; ill. p. 21 (color).

Davidson, Susan, ed. Art in America: 300 Years of Innovation. (exh. cat., National Museum of China, Beijing; Shanghai Museum). New York, NY: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation; Chicago, IL: Terra Foundation for American Art, 2007. Text p. 198; ill. p. 215 (color).

Davidson, Susan, ed. Art in America: 300 Years of Innovation. (exh. cat., National Museum of China, Beijing; Shanghai Museum). New York, NY: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation; Chicago, IL: Terra Foundation for American Art, 2007. (Chinese edition). Text p. 198; ill. p. 215 (color).

Art In America: 300 years of Innovation. Hong Kong: Wen Wei Publishing Co. Ltd, 2007. (in Chinese), Ill. p. 121 (color).

Davidson, Susan, ed. Art in America: 300 Years of Innovation. (exh. cat., The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, Russia). New York, NY: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation; Chicago, IL: Terra Foundation for American Art, 2007. (Russian edition). Ill. cover (color), p. 113 (color).

Davidson, Susan, ed. Art in the USA: 300 años de innovación. (exh. cat., Guggenheim Museum Bilbao). New York, NY: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation; Chicago, IL: Terra Foundation for American Art, 2007. Ill. p. 153 (color).

Hambleton, Gross. Governing Cities in the Urban Era. New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan US, 2007. Text “Acknowledgment section”. Ill. cover (color).

Fahlman, Betsy and Claire Barry. Chimneys and Towers: Charles Demuth’s Late Paintings of Lancaster. (exh. cat. Amon Carter Museum) Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008. Text pp. 101, 134.

Brock, Charles, Nancy Anderson, and Harry Cooper. American Modernism: The Shein Collection. (exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington DC) Washington DC: National Gallery of Art, 2010. Text p. 45.

Lampe, Anne M. Demuth in the City of Lights. (exh. cat. Woodmere Art Museum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Woodmere Art Museum, 2011. Text p. 18; ill. p. 19, fig. 28 (color).

Art Across America. (exh. cat., National Museum of Korea, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Terra Foundation for American Art). Seoul, South Korea: National Museum of Korea, 2013. Text p. 281; ill. p. 280 (color).

America: Painting a Nation. (exh. cat., Art Gallery of New South Wales, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, National Museum of Korea, Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Terra Foundation for American Art). Sydney, Australia: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2013. Text p. 178; ill. p. 179, cat. no. 60 (color), back cover flap (color detail).

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