Notes on Pink Tulips

Published as Collin Pressler, February 2017

“Pink Tulips” (1930) is said to have been found on the easel of Charles Demuth at the time of his death. The American Modernist, a son of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is interned at the City’s namesake cemetery, where pink tulips grow on his grave in the Spring. “Pink Tulips” counts itself among a number of simple while inspired compositions of flowers in stark contrast with the artist’s precisionist masterworks.

Charles Demuth, “Pink Tulips,” (1930) watercolor and graphite on paper. [Collection of the Demuth Museum (Lancaster, PA)]

These intimate departures for Demuth’s Modernist ambitions and professional tendency towards geometric abstraction can be read alongside pictures of early 20th century gay life (pissing sailors and homosocial ballroom scenes) as expressions of play and refusal – moments of reprieve from the strict, self-imposed aesthetic framework governing his “serious” projects. In an oeuvre made so famous by its sparseness of bodies (vacant factory scenes or purely images abstract planes as in “I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold,”) Demuth’s flowers emerge as handsome representations of vivacity and desire. Alongside the sailors, this circuit in Demuth’s work seems an apt outlet for a painter of desire – who famously returned to his hometown of Lancaster in a bold effort to “speak for vice” – and for a desirous painter – who spent his final years with diabetes chaste and bedridden.

This short article served as the conceptual foundation for the exhibition “Fruiting Bodies” at Iceberg Projects (February 18 – March 18, 2017), and was featured in the accompanying catalogue.