Please wait

Charles Demuth

Distinguished Air

1930

On View

Floor 7

Robert W. Wilson Galleries

Artist

Charles Demuth (1883-1935)

Title

Distinguished Air

Date

1930

Medium

Watercolor and graphite pencil on paper

Dimensions

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

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

Accession number

68.16

Object Label

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.

Related exhibitions online