, 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
During the first decades of the twentieth century, new skyscrapers and factories were constructed across the United States. These buildings became a frequent subject for artists who saw them as symbols
of invention, modern technology, and America’s expanding wealth. This painting portrays the concrete grain storage elevators that were constructed in 1919 in Charles Demuth’s hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Crossed and fragmented by rays of light that appear as diagonal lines, the industrial-scale
grain elevators tower above neighboring buildings, making the roofs and chimneys at the bottom of the painting seem really small and humble.
In addition to these huge structures, the title of the painting, My Egypt
, suggests that Demuth saw the grain elevators as a great achievement of the modern age in America. Similar to the pyramids of ancient Egypt, these concrete structures could be seen as a particularly American type of monument
. When he painted My Egypt
, Demuth suffered from diabetes and his health was failing. Because of his illness, the pyramids and their connection to the ancient Egyptians’ belief in life after death may have been very appealing to him.