cover image Letters of Charles Demuth

Letters of Charles Demuth

Charles Demuth. Temple University Press, $25.95 (186pp) ISBN 978-1-56639-781-0

Painter Charles Demuth's cubist still lifes, clean cityscapes and symbolically charged canvases (like ""I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold"") brought European modernist techniques to unfussy American sights and sounds. Though his work has ample rewards of its own, Demuth was part of a loose network of some of the most famous artists and writers of his time, among them Alfred Stieglitz (who received the most letters here), Georgia O'Keeffe, William Carlos Williams, John Reed and Gertrude Stein. As these letters demonstrate, Demuth, who succumbed to diabetes at age 51 (though he was one of the first to take insulin), possessed a lively intelligence and a charming wit, one equally suited to serious art criticism and lighthearted gossip. Though Demuth made his permanent residence with his mother in her Lancaster, Pa., townhouse, he also spent gobs of time in New York, Paris and Provincetown, Mass. (where he had a hand in creating the Provincetown Playhouse made famous by Eugene O'Neill), from where he dispatched terse impressions: ""Again, New York. Again, this & that."" Though he liked to play the dandy, Demuth as a correspondent was not open about his sexuality. Supplementing the 155 letters (many quite brief) are largely forgotten appraisals of Demuth's work by his contemporaries--among others, Marsden Hartley, Carl Van Vechten and A.E. Gallatin. 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. (July)