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Charles Demuth

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

Rue du singe qui pêche
1921

Tempera on academy board
Image: 20 9/16 x 16 1/8in. (52.2 x 41cm)
Frame: 29 1/4 x 24 7/16 x 2 1/4in. (74.3 x 62.1 x 5.7cm)
Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1999.44
Signed: Lower right: C.D./Paris/1921
Artist Name: []

Interpretation

Charles Demuth’s Rue du singe qui pêche (translated as the "Street of the Monkey Who Fishes") is a partially abstracted image of a deserted imaginary street in Paris. The colors are somber and the vertical format, echoing the narrow buildings, evokes the confinement of canyon-like urban thoroughfares. Rendered in flat planes and precise lines, building walls, windows, rooftops, and balustrades are clearly identifiable, yet distorted. Strange angles, overlaid planes of flooding light, and truncated words emblazoned on jutting signboards or floating banner-like in space contribute to a dreamlike vision of an ordinary street. The fragments of words reference commercial signage, but they also evoke the nonsensical snatches of multiple conversations overheard by a passer-by. The composition’s jutting lines and superimposed rhythmic curves, meanwhile, recall the jazz music of the era—the soundtrack of urbanism, modernity, and avant-garde artistic culture.

Rue du singe qui pêche is the only painting Demuth made during his third and last trip to Paris, from August to November 1921. During that stay, he was nostalgic for the city he had known on his previous visit, almost a decade earlier. His time in Paris was overshadowed (and cut short) by severe symptoms of the diabetes that eventually took his life. These circumstances may explain the rather subdued colors of the painting, which Demuth made not with his favorite medium of watercolor but in the more deliberately applied, opaque tempera paint. Rue du singe qui pêche is among a group of works from 1921 in which Demuth pioneered a new artistic mode called Precisionism. Its clean lines, precise drawing, and architectural or industrial subject matter were inspired by the utilitarian design of modern industry, while its fragmentation and distortion is indebted to Cubism, in which forms are abstracted to their component planes and angles.

Demuth was one of the first artists to incorporate into his works text derived from urban signs and advertising. Rue du singe qui pêche is the only painting in which he simulated actual commercial signage, yet many of the fragments of presumably French words are unintelligible. As in his Welcome to Our City (TF 1993.3), painted the same year, these cryptic bits of text lend a subtle note of mystery to the image, hinting at the coded but inaccessible meanings just below the material surface of reality. In Demuth’s coolly ironic vision, the literal nonsense that results from disjuncture and accidental juxtaposition becomes the subtext of everyday urban experience.

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Provenance

The artist
Georgia O'Keeffe, New York, 1935
The Downtown Gallery, New York, New York
Bernard Heineman, Jr., New York, New York, 1951
Berry-Hill Galleries, Inc., New York, New York
Daniel J. Terra Collection, Chicago, Illinois, 1985
Terra Foundation for the Arts Collection, Chicago, Illinois, 1999

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Exhibition History

Recent Paintings by Charles Demuth, Daniel Gallery, New York, New York, December 1, 1922–January 2, 1923, no. 12.

An American Place, New York, New York, 1931.

Charles Demuth Memorial Exhibition, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York, December 15, 1937–January 16, 1938, no. 83. [exh. cat.]

Five Prodigal Sons (Crawford, Davis, Demuth, Levi, Sheeler), Coleman Art Gallery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, October 4–30, 1947, no. 13.

Charles Demuth Retrospective Exhibition, Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York (organizer). Venues: Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York, March 7–June 11, 1950; Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan, October 4–29, 1950; University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida; Winnipeg Art Gallery, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada; "Paintings and Drawings by Charles Demuth," Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts, February 5–24, 1951; University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware; Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio. [exh. cat.]

Charles Demuth-Oils and Watercolors, The Downtown Gallery, New York, New York, July 6–28, 1950, no. 17.

Paris-Many Happy Returns, Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island, 1951.

Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1952.

The Classic Tradition of Contemporary Art, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota (organizer). Venue: Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota, April 24–June 28, 1953. [exh. cat.]

Demuth-Watercolor Retrospective (combined with Dove exhibition), The Downtown Gallery, New York, New York, April 6–May 1, 1954.

Stieglitz Circle, Pomona College Galleries, Claremont, California, October 11–November 15, 1958, no. 7.

The Precisionist View in American Art, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota (organizer). Venues: Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota, November 13–December 25, 1960; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York; The Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California; San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco, California. [exh. cat.]

Abstract Painting in America 1903–1923, The Downtown Gallery, New York, New York, March 27–April 21, 1962, no. 11.

Williams College Alumni Loan Exhibition, Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts (organizer). Venue: Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachuesetts, May 5–June 16, 1962, no. 21. [exh. cat.]

"Magic Realism" - What is it?, DeCordova and Dana Museum, Lincoln, Massachusetts, and The American Federation of Arts, New York, New York, March 1964–March 1965.

Charles Demuth of Lancaster, William Penn Memorial Museum, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, September 24–November 6, 1966, no. 89.

Paintings by Charles Demuth, Akron Art Institute, Akron, Ohio (organizer). Venue: Akron Art Institute, Akron, Ohio, April 16–May 12, 1968, no. 79.

Forerunners of American Abstraction, Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, November 18, 1971–January 8, 1972, no. 12.

Pioneers of American Abstraction
Second Williams College Alumni Loan Exhibition, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, New York, and Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts (organizers). Venues: Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, New York, April 1–24, 1976; Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts, May 9–June 13, 1976. [exh. cat.]

Geometric Tradition in American Painting, Rosa Esman Gallery and Marilyn Pearl Gallery, New York, New York, April 8–May 17, 1980.

Buildings: Architecture in American Modernism, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, New York (organizer). Venue: Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, New York, October 29–November 29, 1980, cat. no. 23. [exh. cat.]

An American Place, Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, New York, May 24–July 19, 1981, cat. no. 1. [exh. cat.]

Charles Demuth and His Circle, Barbara Mathes Gallery, New York, New York, May 18–June 25, 1982, cat. no. 5.

Léger and the Modern Spirit, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, July 15–September 12, 1982. [exh. cat.]

Pioneers of American Abstraction, Andrew Crispo Gallery, New York, New York, October 16–November 17, 1983, no. 41.

Images of America: Precisionist Painting and Modern Photography, San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco, California (organizer). Venues: San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco, California, September 9–November 7, 1982; St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, Missouri, December 6, 1982–January 30, 1983; Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, Maryland, February 28–April 25, 1983; Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, Iowa, May 23–July 17, 1983; and Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio, August 15–October 9, 1983. [exh. cat.]

Selections from the Permanent Collection, Terra Museum of American Art, Evanston, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Evanston, Illinois, July 19–September 14, 1985.

Order in Space: Precisionist Works by Demuth and Sheeler, Terra Museum of American Art, Evanston, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Evanston, Illinois, November 15, 1985–January 12, 1986.

A Proud Heritage: Two Centuries of American Art, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, April 21–June 21, 1987. [exh. cat.]

Charles Demuth, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York, October 14, 1987–January 17, 1988; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, February 25–April 24, 1988; Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, Ohio, May 8–July 10, 1988. [exh. cat.]

Collection Cameo, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, November 1988.

American Painters in France, 1830–1930, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, June 14–September 3, 1989. [exh. cat.]

The 1920s: Age of the Metropolis, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts/Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montreal, Montreal, Canada (organizer). Venue: The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts/Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montreal, Montreal, Canada, June 20–November 17, 1991. [exh. cat.]

American Artists and the French Experience, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, April 12–August 27, 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). Venue: Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France, April 1-July 15, 1999. [exh. cat.]

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.]

Made in USA: l'art américain 1908–1943, entre nationalisme et internationalisme (Made in USA: American Art, 1908–1943 between nationalism and internationalism), Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux, France (organizer). Venue: Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux, France, October 3–December 31, 2001.

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 (on exhibit extended run: November 2, 2002–March 2, 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–July 17, 2005.

La Ville Magique (The Magical City), Lille Métropole Musée d'Art Moderne d'Art Contemporain et d'Art Brut, Lille, France (organizer). Venue: Lille Métropole Musée d'Art Moderne d'Art Contemporain et d'Art Brut, Lille, France, September 29, 2012–January 15, 2013. [exh. cat.]

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Published References

"The Downtown Gallery Papers; Charles Demuth #35," Archives of American Art, Roll ND/30, Frames #50, 51, 54, 55, 74, 75, 77, 78-81, 183, 184.

Ritchie, Andrew Carnduff. Charles Demuth. (exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art). New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1950. Ill. p. 72.

The Classic Tradition in Contemporary Art. (exh. cat., Walker Art Center). Minneapolis, Minnesota: Walker Art Center, 1953. Ill. p. 17.

Farnham, Emily. Charles Demuth: His Life, Psychology and Works. PhD dissertation, Ohio State University, 1959. Vol. I, fig. 37, p. 409, vol. II, text p. 560.

The Precisionist View in American Art. (exh. cat., Walker Art Center). Minneapolis, Minnesota: Walker Art Center, 1960. Cat. p. 55.

An Exhibition of Works of Art, Lent by the Alumni of Williams College. (exh. cat., Williams College Museum of Art). Williamstown, Massachusetts: Williams College Museum of Art, 1962. Text p. 18.

Charles Demuth: the Mechanical Encrusted on the Living. (exh. cat., The Art Galleries, University of California, Santa Barbara). Santa Barbara, California: The Art Galleries, University of California, Santa Barbara, 1971. Text p. 20.

Farnham, Emily. Charles Demuth: Behind a Laughing Mask. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971. Text pp. 120, 148, 206.

Hunter, Sam. American Art of the 20th Century. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1972. Ill. no. 201, p. 118 (black & white).

Eiseman, Alvord L. A Study of the Development of an Artist: Charles Demuth. PhD dissertation, New York University, 1976. Vol. I, text pp. 366-69, ill. p. 367.

Second Williams College Alumni Loan Exhibition. (exh. cat., Williams College Museum of Art). Williamstown, Massachusetts: Williams College Museum of Art, 1976. Text p. 14; cat. 15, p. 38.

Norton, Thomas E., ed. Homage to Charles Demuth: Still Life Painter of Lancaster. Ephrata, Pennsylvania: Science Press, 1978. Ill. p. 74.

Buildings: Architecture in American Modernism. (exh. cat., Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc.). New York: Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., 1980. Text p. 28; ill. no. 23, p. 29.

"Weekend [review of "The Geometric Tradition in American Painting, 1920–80]." The New York Times (Friday, April 11, 1980). Text.

"Hirschl & Adler Exhibition Review." New York Daily News (November 21, 1980).

Pisano, Ronald G. An American Place. (exh. cat., The Parrish Art Museum). Southampton, New York: The Parrish Art Museum, 1981. Ill. no. 1 (black & white).

"Parrish Art Museum Exhibition Review." Newsday (July 9, 1981).

Eiseman, Alvord L. Charles Demuth. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1982. Text pp. 16, 65; pl. 26, p. 64 (color).

Fernand Léger and the Modern Spirit. (exh. cat., The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston). Houston, Texas: The Museum of Fine Arts, 1982. Text p. 181; fig. 9, p. 182.

Tsujimoto, Karen. Images of America: Precisionist Painting and Modern Photography. (exh. cat., San Francisco Museum of Modern Art). Seattle, Washington: Published for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art by University of Washington Press, 1982. Text no. 39, p. 233 (checklist).

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. Pl. 68, p. 156 (color)

Atkinson, D. Scott et al. A Proud Heritage: Two Centuries of American Art. Edited by Terry A. Neff. (exh. cat., Terra Museum of American Art). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 1987. Pl. T-170, p. 279 (color).

Rue du Singe qui Pêche, Charles Demuth. Collection Cameo sheet, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, November 1988. Ill. (black & white).

Clair, Jean, ed. The 1920s: Age of the Metropolis. Montreal, Canada: The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1991. Text p. 357, pl. 474, p. 363 (color).

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 pp. 14, 24 (checklist); fig. 6, p. 14 (black & white).

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 pp. 14, 24 (checklist); fig. 6, p. 14 (black & white).

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. Text pp. 37, 60 (checklist); pl. 10, p. 37 (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. Text pp. 37, 60 (checklist); pl. 10, p. 37 (color).

Inheriting Cubism: The Impact of Cubism on American Art, 1909–1936. (exh. cat., Hollis Taggart Galleries). New York: Hollis Taggart Galleries, 2001. Text pp. 39-40; ill. p. 40 (black and white).

American Art 1908–1947: From Winslow Homer to Jackson Pollock. (exh. cat. Reunion des musées nationaux). Paris, France: Editions de la Reunion des musées nationaux, 2001. Text pp. 104-15; ill. p. 121 (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 p. 172.

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 p. 172.

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. Cat. no. 21, p. 51 (color).

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. Cat. no. 21, p. 51 (color).

Fahlman, Betsy and Claire Barry. Chimneys and Towers: Charles Demuth's Late Paintings of Lancaster. (exh. cat., Amon Carter Museum). Fort Worth, Texas: Amon Carter Museum, 2007. Text pp. 78,80, 197; ill. fig.37, p. 79 (color).

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. fig. 28, p. 19 (color).

La Ville Magique. (exh. cat., Lille Métropole Musée d'Art Moderne d'Art Contemporain et d'Art Brut). Lille, France: Lille Métropole Musée d'Art Moderne d'Art Contemporain et d'Art Brut and Editions Gaillmard, 2012. Ill. cat. no. 119, p. 151 (color).

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