Skip to main content

Charles Demuth

Distinguished Air

Not on view



Watercolor and graphite pencil on paper

Sheet (Irregular): 16 1/4 × 12 3/16in. (41.3 × 31 cm)

Accession number

Credit line
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Friends of the Whitney Museum of American Art and Charles Simon

Rights and reproductions
© artist or artist’s estate

This watercolor by Charles Demuth is based on a short story by Robert McAlmon, set in the decadent, sex and drugs-filled world of post-World War I Berlin. Demuth recasts a scene from the story, which took place in one of Berlin’s “queer cafes,” as the opening of an art exhibition where a provocative woman in evening dress, a male homosexual couple, and a heterosexual couple look at Constantin Brancusi’s famous sculpture, Princess X, (1915-16), whose overtly phallic form scandalized many contemporary viewers. The title “Distinguished Air” is derived from the narrator’s description of the protagonist, a worldly but dissolute American. Here, the gentleman carrying a cane seems to gaze at the crotch of the sailor, obliquely mirroring the infatuation of McAlmon’s protagonist with a handsome soldier. In the 1930s, Demuth’s watercolors often contained themes of underground sexual freedom and licentiousness, subjects which likely had personal resonance for the artist as a homosexual in a culture which was largely inhospitable.



A 30-second online art project:
Ryan Kuo, Hateful Little Thing

Learn more

All visitors aged 12 and older must show proof they have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine for admission to the Whitney, in accordance with NYC requirements. Visitors aged 18 and older will also be asked to show photo ID. Face coverings are required for all visitors. Learn more about the Whitney’s safety guidelines.