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Charles Demuth was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where his family had lived since the eighteenth century. After studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, Demuth left for Paris in 1912. During his two-year sojourn, he became acquainted with many of the avant-garde European artists of the time, including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Francis Picabia, and Marcel Duchamp.
After returning to the United States, he was introduced to photographer and gallerist Alfred Stieglitz, who quickly included Demuth in his circle of artists. From 1915 until his death, Demuth divided his time between New York and Lancaster. He drew subject matter from both locations for his work, focusing especially on the nightlife of New York and the vernacular architecture of Lancaster. By 1918, Demuth began to adopt a vocabulary of crisp lines and flattened, planar forms. This style, which later became known as Precisionism, was influenced by the fragmented forms of Cubism and Futurism but took as its subject the modern, industrial landscape of the United States.
In 1927, Demuth began a series of canvases based on the architecture of his home town, taking as his subjects the grain elevators, water towers, and other industrial structures that had been constructed in the years following World War I. During this period, he also created a series of abstract portraits of several of his friends and artist colleagues, including The Figure Five in Gold, a portrait of poet William Carlos Williams. Although he is best known for his Precisionist oil paintings, Demuth also worked prolifically in watercolor throughout his career, producing images of flowers, still-lifes, landscapes, and illustrations for stories and plays.