I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold

Artist: Charles Demuth (American, Lancaster, Pennsylvania 1883–1935 Lancaster, Pennsylvania)

Date: 1928

Medium: Oil, graphite, ink, and gold leaf on paperboard (Upson board)

Dimensions: 35 1/2 x 30 in. (90.2 x 76.2 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1949

Accession Number: 49.59.1

Description

Demuth completed eight abstract portraits between 1924 and 1929 as tributes to modern American artists, writers, and performers. Though not a physical likeness, Demuth created this portrait of his friend, the poet and physician William Carlos Williams, using imagery from Williams’s poem "The Great Figure," which evokes the sights and sounds of a fire engine speeding down the street. The intersecting lines, repeated "5," round forms of the numbers, lights, street lamp, and blaring sirens of the red fire engine together infuse the painting with a vibrant, urban energy. Demuth derived the title from the poem, which reads:
Among the rain
and lights
I saw the figure 5
in gold
on a red
firetruck
moving
tense
unheeded
to gong clangs
siren howls
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city

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