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Charles Demuth

My Egypt

1927

Charles Demuth, My Egypt, 1927  31.172
Charles Demuth, My Egypt, 1927. Oil on fiberboard, 35 3/4 × 30 in. (90.8 × 76.2 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney  31.172 For Teachers

about this work

My Egypt depicts a steel and concrete grain elevator belonging to John W. Eshelman & Sons in Charles Demuth’s hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Painted from a low vantage point, the structure assumes a monumentality emphasized by the inclusion of the lower rooftops of neighboring buildings (suggesting the more traditional architecture of smaller family farms) at the bottom of the painting. In Demuth’s image, the majestic grain elevator rises up as the pinnacle of American achievement—a modern day equivalent to the monuments of ancient Egypt. A series of intersecting diagonal planes add geometric dynamism add a heavenly radiance to the composition, invoking the correlations between industry and religion that were widespread in the 1920s. Nonetheless, Demuth may have intended the title to allude to the slave labor that built the pyramids, intimating the dehumanizing effect of industry on the nation’s workers. Moreover, the pyramids and their association with life after death might also have appealed to the ailing artist, who was bedridden with diabetes at the time of the painting’s execution.

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Charles Demuth, My Egypt, 1927  31.172
Charles Demuth, My Egypt, 1927  31.172

look closer

What type of building could this be? How can you tell?

What could it be used for?

Where might you find buildings like this? 

How is this building similar to or different from other buildings you have seen? 

Look at the shapes that the artist has used in this painting. What could they represent? 

Why do you think the artist named this painting My Egypt?

Activities

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Charles Demuth, My Egypt, 1927  31.172 For Teachers

Fascinated by the American industrial landscape of the 1920s, Charles Demuth painted a pair of steel and concrete grain-storage elevators belonging to John W. Eshelman & Sons in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. They were located in the rural community where Demuth was born and where his family had lived since the late eighteenth century. The title of the painting—My Egypt—suggests that Demuth saw the grain elevators as American monuments, equivalent to the pyramids of ancient Egypt.

Lead a discussion with your students about why Demuth might have called this painting My Egypt. What building or object would your students choose to represent a contemporary version of My Egypt? Ask your students to draw or paint an object or building that they consider new, exciting, or spectacular in the United States today. Share and discuss students’ drawings or paintings. What did they choose as their Egypt? Why?

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