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Letters of Charles Demuth

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781566397810
  • Publisher: Temple University Press
  • Publication date: 6/13/2000
  • Pages: 186
  • Product dimensions: 5.52 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.62 (d)

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TO MRS. C. L. EHLEN 14 February 1896

If of me you sometimes think Send me back my bow of pink. If to me your heart is true Send me back my bow of blue. If you are another girls fellow Send me back my bow of yellow. If to me your heart is dead Send me back my bow of red.


17 September 1907

Carlos, Carlos, how good your letter did sound. I want to answer it before I sail & know if I let it go much longer it will be impossible.

    In about two weeks I'll be starting from home for Philadelphia: from there I sail on the 4th of October.

    But getting back to your affairs, you [have] no idea how your letter affected me. I have always felt that it would happen to you some day—that you would simply have to write. However hearing that it would happen this minute was grand news. There's a young chap in New York now, his name is George Frederick—he has written some very good things, poems. He had them published in the spring—the collection is called "Nineva." I wish you would read some of them if you can get ahold of the book. I have never met him but have several very good friends whom are also friends of his. You may not like his stuff, I can't tell, not having talked art to you for so long a time.

    I will not be able to see you before I go—yes, it is too bad. Still Carlos when I come back—when I come back—well, we may both have a start in a small way then. I will be over a year at least, perhapslonger. You see, I have just a certain amount of money to spend while abroad & when that is gone I must come back. If I can make it last over the year, of course I'll stay. So I may see [Edd?]—who can tell?

    And Carlos even though nothing happens after your six months work in Boston don't give up, will you? It's worth all the money & tears, after all. To feel the joys of creating for a single moment seems to repay one for a year's work. Of course, I know, so do you, that at times it's hell. When you feel like giving it all up & then you think, but what would become of me if I really was made to give it up for ever. Heaven be praised neither one of us will meet such a fate—I hope.

    Ever since I started to write this letter parts of what will follow keep popping into my head:

"High, Higher than seventh heaven above,
Low, Lower than deepest hell beneath,
We rise and fall—you & I.
In ecstasy more full,
In sorrow more intense,
Than all these fools could ever guess,
We rise and fall—you & I.
Back and forth—
Forth to the Idea,
Back—to where?
No place or mark is there!
All this for beauty
Veiled, eternal, sure,
The essence of the morning's mist,
Of feeding flocks R lovers' close embrace."

I can't remember whose this is—perhaps they're mine—one does fight at times especially when you expect to see the sights of Paris within the month.

    Good-bye, good-bye with the very best wishes.


19 April 1916

My dear Stieglitz:—

    The photographs came to-day. They are fine, aren't they?

   Hartley will tell you how anxious, after seeing his, one time abroad, I always was for you sometime to do me. And now it's done!

    Thank you very much for them and may I too thank you, here, for the something which I found so often this winter at 291 and which you make so possible.

    Best regards for Mrs. Stieglitz.

As ever,

[circa autumn 1916]


    The [Provincetown Players] meeting I am told is to be at your rooms to-night.

    You might tell said meeting that I will be in my province until November 10th or 15th. After all there is no place like one's own home for a slow season; the only possible place for a complete "get away" from the "drama" (in America) and artists of all kind! You need not mention this last outburst to the gathered elders.

    How are you? I hope o.k. Best for Louise.

As ever,

Am inclosing check for four—I think that was the amount, and probably the theater is in need of all it can get.


31 December 1916

My dear Stieglitz:—

    Wishing you an interesting & happy New Year.


I see by the "Sun" that the water-colors are on exhibition. They are really fine to me.

[circa early April 1917]

Brevoort House, Fifth Avenue at 8th Street
New York City

My dear McBride:—

    A piece of sculpture, called "A Fountain," was entered, by one of our friends, for the Independent Exhibition now open at the Grand Central Palace.

    It was not exhibited.

    "The Independents," we are now told, have a committee,—or jury, who can decide, "for the good of the exhibition."

    We think that a show called "The Super Independents"—or Salon des Refusés—is the next move.

    If you think you could do anything with this material for your Sunday article we would appreciate it very much.

Yours sincerely,
C. Demuth

P.S. If you wish any more information please 'phone Marcel
Duchamp, 4225 Columbus, or Richard Mutt, 9255 Schuyler.


[circa 25 November 1917]

Brevoort House, Fifth Avenue at 8th Street
New York City

My dear McBride:—

   I wish to thank you for Sunday's.

   In New York so few get it.

   Thank you.

Yours sincerely,
Charles Demuth

27 November 1917

Brevoort House, Fifth Avenue at 8th Street
New York City

My dear McBride:—

    Miss Stein will laugh if it ever does reach Nimes.

    I wish that you would look my drawings over again, and, if you find one, I would like you to take it for your walls, or, for the space you prefer for your pictures.

    With my kindest wishes, I remain

Yours sincerely,
C. Demuth

9 March 1919

Dear Mr. McBride:—

    It was nice to see it traced back to Miss Stein, in the T. N. T. thing in to-day's Sun. In the rush of followers it seems to be quite the thing to forget or discredit the "great" (please, think of the little dots [i.e., quotation marks] as being used after the manner of Henry James—more or less, entre nous), Gertrude. The idea about Miss Stein and Miss Garden which you had, around Xmas, was amazing!

    With best regards—


P.S. Ask Daniel to show you the Bouché canvasses.

[circa 1919]

Dear Agie & Eugene:—

    You see, dearies, I'm back in the province in the garden of my own chateau,— where I'll be for the remaining days of the season. The quiet and yellow velvet old age which I always predicted for myself has started: oh, yes my health is much more advanced than any of my contemporaries! I hope, dear Agie, you are still thin. You are about the only one I could at the moment appear with,— and if we do ever appear the "'90's" will have nothing on us for "delicate mad hands" or having "only having pursued our passing vanities."


Send the other one to Eddy, will you, old dear. C. D.

[circa late December 1919]

My dear Shane, Agie, Gene:—

    I'll put the baby tint, I'm sure it is now that way in the house. Too, the times show that it is nicer (although that is hardly the word, nicer), to let the youngest generation "in" than it is to get nervous about them knocking at the door; so, happy new year to Shane first.

    My Christmas was quiet in the province as no doubt yours was in Provincetown. That house you have must be fine for winter. Have been thinking of the end of the Cape of late; thinking it would be, perhaps, a help to see it at this season.

    It appears that the easiest thing to do, and, I'm afraid this is the thing I do, is to stay on here for a month or six weeks and finish up my present work. I'll try to have February in New York, for what reason I'm sure I don't know, these days of wood-alcohol! I hope we who love drink, for itself, will some time be together in a fair country full of the "Triu-bang."

    What of the plays?

    Have seen Marsden,—but he was there that day, so this is no news.

    Will see you in town in February, I hope. Perhaps I'll go to England. I must have a drink on some street corner of the world soon,— or bust.

    Many happy New Years for Poppa & Mamma & to Susan and Gig if you see them.


[undated, prior to 1921]

My dear Walter:—

    When in town last week called you several times & one evening, Spencer & I came to see you. Then I was told you were in Boston.

    I had a photo of a small cupboard, one which hangs on the wall, early American, which I wanted to show to you. There is a woman here who has several very good early American pieces. Can't you motor up & see them? That is better really than seeing photographs. As by train is only 3 1/2 hours. That is if you want any more pieces. There is a very good small blue table, pine.

    I will be in town again after Easter, and will bring the photograph which I had, that is if you don't come up before. I think you really must own this table & cupboard.

Yours sincerely,

2 January 1921

Dear Stieglitz:—

    I did want you really to have that one, and was sorry not to see you, but most of the time, well,— I'm not up to doing very much about anything.

    Will see you I hope some time soon when things are more or less,— more or less,— god knows what.

    Thanks for the nice note.

    Wishing you a very Happy New Year, and O'Keif the same.

As always,

postmark 28 February 1921

My dear Thayer:—

    When in London look up Lovat Frazer & Charles Winger. Frazer will not remember me,— I went to see him in Chelsea, with John Cournos. Charlie Winger, however, will.

    You might be able to use some of their drawings.

Yours sincerely,
C. Demuth

3 June 1921

Dear Thayer:—

    Leo's reported behaviour allows, it would seem, the honour of the province: to rest, as to the great world, on my head.

    If you feel sure that money and a canvas of mine can "talk" (I myself have found them unrelated), at the same pitch,— well then, dear Mr. Thayer, I don't see the way out, and accept your was it "outrageous proposal."

    Please make an offer in ready money and write me after looking at the things, remaining from last winter's show, at Daniel's, whichever you would like me to offer on my side. I think that I have no sporting instinct; I feel only, now, in this seeming "almost" crisis that I must support my idea of beauty in the field. It is so much more important for me that it be there, in the field, than on canvas or whatever.

    You see you really "got" me. I can't resist doing a canvas on Georges's remembered profile.

    Make them show you just what you want to see at Daniel's. You can tell them that your interest is toward the "Dial." Otherwise, knowing the truth, they might wish to protect me. Don't please ask the prices fixed upon them. Now that I'm in, I'll go the handsome with you!

Yours sincerely,
C. Demuth

P.S. However, you had better make, at least, two selections. I may be in town before the 2nd which will simplify this sure to be famous bet. Couldn't we have Lloyd's post it?—they might through the McOberon influence.


12 June 1921

Dear Thayer:—

    Enforced residence in the old home town has made me a bit weak minded perhaps, perhaps careless; more careless, for I believe I am thought to be so by some of my "best" friends, you may have heard as much.

    There are two reasons—other than the probable above mentioned—why I accept which I do, you see, gladly, your offer. First you seem to protest a bit over much about my wish in this matter, and, secondly, I hope this act of mine will be the first step in an, anyway, intended row with Mr. Daniel. I wish to get ahold of all my things before I go abroad which will be, with luck, on the 3rd of August.

    Are you on your side quite satisfied? I am quite, Mr. Thayer.

    I will write Mr. Daniel telling him to hold the one which you have decided upon. I think it is the one used in the "Times." You might go into Daniel and tell him the one, exactly. Tell Hartpence!

    I will see you before you sail, I hope. If not you, certainly your remarks about Lloyd's.


I will send you the photographs of the drawings—I think that I

have some here; I know Daniel had some. Poor Daniel, art has made him mad. He thought it had a use and tried to find it,— but it ain't. Don't tell them at 2 W. 47th St. that I am going to England. C.D.

Can't we have these two in the August "Dial"? Anyway one—

postmark 24 June 1921

Dear Thayer:—

    About Germany, now that our other matter is arranged!—no, I shall not be going into that, I think, rather nice country. As you see, going into it in Aug. I wish if you go to Berlin you would look up one of my very best friends. He is the one that knows Stefan George, and, I'm sure, many of the other people and things going on in Germany. If you wish I will give you a letter. His address and name are: Arnold Rönnebeck, 3 Offenbacher Str., (Friedsan) Berlin.

    I may be in New York next week. I will not see the fight. I couldn't get a seat, a good one when in New York, but now I see that some are to be had. I may see it, but it is not likely. You may slap your neighbor at the fight, Mr. Thayer, when Georges wins.

    Did I tell you, Robert Locher is doing a whole production of the new "Greenwich Village Follies." He hopes to come abroad in September and we are planning to be in delicate conditions, for the autumn, somewhere near Nice.


postmark 3 July 1921

Dear Thayer:—

    Thanks for the wire. I'm sorry Georges lost, but glad you and "The Dial," in your absence, are to have one of my pictures. I like to think of them being in pleasant places, poor things.

    I liked my place between [Benedetto] Croce and [André] Derain; "My place would be between Gilles de Rotz and the Marquis de Sade," wrote [Oscar] Wilde,— too, it is nice being there with Marin to the excluding of all the rest of the painters American.

    Give my best wishes to Ezra when you see him,— tell him that I will see him soon, I hope.

    My address in London will be "Brown's Hotel," 6 York St., St. James.

    Have a good time,— good luck. I shall try again too, at Monte Carlo!

Yours, Demuth

postmark 12 August 1921

S.S. Paquebot
Southampton, England

Dear Mother:—

    This is Tuesday evening.

    We had a very quiet trip.

    Miss Sand whom I knew in Etretat the summer that I was there is on the ship, also Mr. Mercer, Mrs. Eshelman's brother.

    We will land on Friday. The boat made a very slow run.

    I've felt pretty well, the last few days not so well. The food on the ship is getting low. No doubt, I'll be all right when I land.

    Bob [Locher] sent me a book. I don't know how it got aboard. Did Beatrice [Locher] meet you? I didn't see her when the boat sailed.

    It stayed quite warm all the way over,— not hot though like it had been. To-night it is quite cool. It's too bad you didn't come along. I think that my biscuits will hold out.

    I'll write you from London after a day or so. Some one aboard told me of a hotel like the one I stayed at in London before the war. It will be all right, no doubt. It is quite near to the other one.

    We've had several dances. And will have one to-night. There were not many people on the ship when it finally sailed, it was about half full.

    I hope everything went all right with you. I will write you every week. I suppose things will go all right.

with love,

postmark 23 August 1921

Hotel Rembrandt
London, England

Dear Thayer:—

    As I said in the wire, Martin was very coy. I didn't really see him, but talked and talked over the phone. My word, it was like twenty tea-parties. He said that they had—the drawing[s]—gone to America. I think that they were really in his trunk. You know how one "gets" these things from the voice, or silences, or whatever. I did all I could,— not much perhaps, but all I could.

    He ask[ed] me to send you the [Aubrey] Beardsley book, which I got from John Lane. Martin is sailing to-morrow, Wednesday. I think you will find all the ones on his list, except the "Mlle. de Maupin" one which was only in the first edition, at about forty dollars.

    [Demuth's tea spilled on the page at this point so he began a new page, then added his postscripts to the foot of the first page.] I'll try again, as my tea misbehaved.

    The Mlle. de M[aupin] looks very nice in the book. She I would have seen there. I'm sure that I would have liked the [crucial?] ones the best,— the elephant one first. You must have this one, it can't belong to anyone but you in the land-of-the-free. Do get it.

    Martin said that he also had bought some [William] Blakes. They have now at the "Tate" some of great beauty and spirit.

    How is Germany? I don't think the man I wanted you to see is in Berlin; Epstein told me that only a few days ago he had a card from him from Rome. You may find him returned, however.

    I find London quiet, everyone away. Will go to Paris the end of the week or early part of next. My address is Guaranty Trust Co.—London or Paris—how you knew it I don't know. Thanks for the photo of Georges. I received it before I sailed.

    If you write,— write to London. I hope you are amused. You owe me 27 shillings, Sir.


P.S. The tea has dried! If you want the copy of the first edition—"Later Works"—wire me and I'll send it on. It is the last one (?) Mr. Lane has, and was as I said about forty—40.00. Both the clerk at Lane's and Mr. [Bean?] seemed to be beyond my control.

P.S. I think the name of my hotel might, if you thought on it, be matter for a last page of some future "Dial."


31 August 1921

Hotel Rembrandt
London, England

Dear Stieglitz:—

    You will, no doubt, be surprised to get this from me from this place. It was good to hear from you.

    I wanted to do something to stop the "Wheels" going around backwards,— so, chanced this. I wanted so to feel it once more,—so here I am, and will go to Paris next week.

    I wish that you were here to look at an exhibition of Blakes, now on at the "Tate," with me. They have been loaned. Some are large pictures on, I think, plaster. They hang next [to] the great Turners—it is wonderful. Marin could be there,— how simple it seems. The National Gallery has been re-arranged by some rare hands,— and one wonderful [El] Greco added.

    I wonder if it will ever happen in the land of the free?—or is it happening? I never knew Europe was so wonderful, and never knew really—not so surely—that New York, if not the country, has something not found here. It makes me feel almost like running back and doing something about it,— but what does that come to? So few understand love and work; I think if a few do we may not have lived entirely without point.

    You feel the war and what is now going on to an amazing extent. It is all so expressed, so much freer than at home.

    Have seen Epstein. His work is really not "there." The sculptors in New York—although I don't get so much—are better. He has become rather grand.

    I hope someone opens a gallery in New York. I feel that Daniel is a crook,— a nice fellow, but a crook. I can't cope with it any longer. He had a good chance too. Again the American idea. I have taken most of my things away,— all the good ones. I suppose it was silly but I couldn't come away leaving him to care for them. Poor Stieglitz, some more outside trouble being again poured over you.

    I hope your work is going. How grand they looked last winter.

    It is more difficult in America to work,— perhaps that will add a quality. My god, where are they? And how little fun they are having.

    The enclosed is the new E1 Greco.

    Best regards to G'Kief.

    I wish you were here.


[circa early September 1921]

Hotel Lutetia, 44 Boulevard Raspail
Paris, France

My dear Miss Stein:—

    Could Marsden [Hartley] and I come to see you Saturday evening?

   Will you write me to this hotel. I will be here until Mon. or Tues.

Yours sincerely,
Charles Demuth

postmark 6 September I921

Paris, France

Will you be home tomorrow evening,— Wed? Marcel [Duchamp] and I would like to come to see you, if it is all right don't answer, and we will come.



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Table of Contents

A Note on Editing
The Letters 1
An Appreciative Appendix 141
What Is Happening in the World of Art 142
Demuth 143
The Underground Search for Higher Moralities 144
Demuth 146
from Art and Artists in Review 147
from Florine Stettheimer and Charles Demuth 151
from American Water-Colourists 152
Demuth 154
Charles Demuth 157
Water-Colours 163
Demuth Watercolors and Oils at "An American Place," 165
Pen Portraits: Charles Demuth: Artist 167
from Farewell, Charles 171
Demuth Memorial Exhibition 177
Index 181
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