18 1/8 in. x 12 in. (46.04 cm x 30.48 cm)
His motivation for trying to maintain a presence in both establishment and avant-garde camps seems to have been emotional rather than economic. He was apparently far less concerned with reaching as many markets as possible with his work than he was with gaining universal approbation; at the same time he viewed at least some of his admirers—and himself—with irony. This is revealed by his remarks to Stieglitz about Plums (which was awarded a silver medal at the Sesquicentennial):
I must write and tell you the news,—I don't think it is, as yet, given to the public. The Sesqui Exhibition gave me a silver meddle on my branch of plumbs that water colour you had last winter in my show. It seems funnier to be noticed than not to be.1
The diffident tone of Demuth's statement is paralleled in his watercolors, even the seemingly straightforward fruit and flower still lifes that were his creative mainstay through much of the 1920s. Behind the simple naturalism of Plums is a sophisticated, Cubist-inspired compositional strategy that Demuth had developed in his architectural subjects of the late teens. The watercolor focuses on a vertical slice of space, describing a section of a tree in fruit. The leaves are painted with diaphanous washes that evoke flickering sunlight and the suggestion of a breeze. The plum-laden branches, springy with tension, bend down in a seemingly artless succession of graceful curves, while at the same time overlapping leaves and branches form a pyramid that reaches to the top of the sheet. The baroque voluptuousness of the design is undercut by edges that are softened and richly colored areas that fade into the white paper. Branches and foliage consolidate in the center against a deep, liquid ground, and then dissolve. Leaves that are outlined but left unpainted and branches that trail off into pale washes of color and wispy pencil lines dematerialize the image, even as the rich, juicy plums proclaim its solidity.
Like most of the still lifes Demuth produced during this period, Plums was painted in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and may represent a tree he saw from his studio on the second floor of his mother's house. Lancaster and the family home were security for him, a place where he could recover and regain his strength after debilitating bouts of diabetes. The critic Henry McBride, who visited Demuth in Lancaster, noted that the artist treasured the "cloistered serenity" of his mother's garden. It enabled him to "confront that 'oblique place,' the modern world.”2 Plums demonstrates Demuth's ability to engage the modern in an image marked by serenity, elegance, and naturalistic ease.
Carol Troyen, Addison Gallery of American Art: 65 Years, A Selective Catalogue (Andover, Massachusetts: Addison Gallery of American Art, 1996), pp. 354-55
1. Charles Demuth to Alfred Stieglitz, 12 October 1926. Alfred Stieglitz Papers, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut.
2. Henry McBride, "Charles Demuth, Artist," in Charles Demuth Memorial Exhibition (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art. 1937), unpaginated.
This object was included in the following exhibitions:
- Water Colors by Contemporary Americans Addison Gallery of American Art , 5/22/1935 - 6/25/1935
- Charles Demuth Memorial Exhibition Whitney Museum of American Art , 12/15/1937 - 1/16/1938
- A History of American Watercolor Painting Whitney Museum of American Art , 1/27/1942 - 2/25/1942
- Our Leading Watercolorists University Gallery, University of Minnesota , 11/29/1942 - 12/20/1942
- Masters of American Watercolor Davis Museum and Cultural Center , 10/15/1949 - 11/20/1949
- Charles Demuth Retrospective Exhibition The Museum of Modern Art , 3/7/1950 - 6/11/1951
- Campus Taste in Art [Student Taste in Art] Addison Gallery of American Art , 2/16/1951 - 3/12/1951
- Scope in Collecting [25th Anniversary Exhibition] Addison Gallery of American Art , 10/19/1956 - 12/24/1956
- Living with Design Addison Gallery of American Art , 10/22/1959 - 10/23/1959
- Directions in 20th Century American Painting Dallas Museum of Art , 10/7/1961 - 11/12/1961
- The Stieglitz Circle The Museum of Modern Art , 2/1/1962 - 6/19/1963
- American Painting 1910-1960 Indiana University of Pennsylvania Museum , 4/19/1964 - 5/10/1964
- Charles Demuth of Lancaster William Penn Memorial Museum , 9/24/1966 - 11/6/1966
- Charles Demuth: The Mechanical Encrusted in the Living The Art Galleries, University of California , 10/5/1971 - 4/16/1972
- The American Still Life 1879-1979 Addison Gallery of American Art , 10/26/1979 - 12/12/1979
- The Split-Up: The Beginning of a New Art in America Addison Gallery of American Art , 3/13/1981 - 4/12/1981
- Masterworks of American Art from the Addison Gallery Collection Hirschl and Adler Galleries, Inc. , 10/6/1981 - 10/31/1981
- untitled The Harcus Gallery , 5/20/1983 - 7/8/1983
- Charles Demuth Retrospective Whitney Museum of American Art , 10/14/1987 - 4/24/1988
- Ideas and Notations: Masterworks on Paper from the Addison Collection Addison Gallery of American Art , 4/10/1992 - 8/2/1992
- Addison Gallery of American Art: 65 Years Addison Gallery of American Art , 4/13/1996 - 7/31/1996
- Parallel Perspectives: Early Twentieth Century American Art Addison Gallery of American Art , 11/16/1999 - 5/1/2000
- On Paper: Masterworks from the Addison Collection Addison Gallery of American Art , 2/1/2003 - 4/6/2003
- Natural Selections Addison Gallery of American Art , 9/14/2013 - 3/16/2014
- In Tandem: Inspirations and Collaborations Addison Gallery of American Art , 9/12/2015 - 1/3/2016
- Eye on the Collection Addison Gallery of American Art , 4/1/2017 - 7/30/2017
- Currents/Crosscurrents: American Art, 1850–1950 Addison Gallery of American Art , 10/16/2020 - 3/7/2021
This object has the following bibliographic references:
- tests of Andover Inn reproductions . Palm Press, Inc.. 2010
This object is a member of the following portfolios:
Your current search criteria is: Portfolio is "Collection Highlights".