In recent years the American painter Charles Demuth (1883-1935) has not commanded the kind of public attention he once did. Yet of all our early modernists, none was held in higher esteem by his fellow artists. Two of our greatest modern painters, Marsden Hartley and Stuart Davis, expressed their deep respect and admiration for him. “Charles loved the language of paint,” noted Hartley in 1935, shortly after Demuth’s death at the age of fifty-two. And indeed, in Demuth’s hands, the language of paint is truly compelling. Hartley’s further observation that Demuth “never made a bad picture” seems true as well, at least in the watercolors and temperas (the oils are another matter). Thus it was with unusual interest that one approached the Demuth retrospective organized by Barbara Haskell last fall for the Whitney Museum of American Art.


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