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Charles Demuth (1883-1935) was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, into a prominent family in the tobacco business. He studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and later at the Académie Colarossi and Académie Julian in Paris, where he was first exposed to the European avant-garde. Returning to America after his studies, he participated in the transmission of modern European ideas into American art—along with Georgia O'Keeffe, Demuth was a proponent of Precisionism, a movement that incorporated the clean lines and geometrical forms of Cubism and Futurism into depictions of the American landscape.
Chimneys and Towers focuses on Demuth's late paintings of industrial sites in Lancaster. During this period he struggled with diabetes and painted little, but the powerful visual impact of the works he completed belies his diminishing physical strength. Depicting the warehouses and factories of the city's tobacco and linoleum industries in sharp, geometric forms, these paintings show an artist negotiating both artistic and personal identity, bringing to the depiction of his hometown the style of the American avant-garde that he helped create.
While scholars have long recognized the importance of these works, Chimneys and Towers offers new perspectives on their initial critical reception, as well as a more complete understanding of the paintings' relationship to Demuth's native Lancaster. Betsy Fahlman also explores in depth the effects of Demuth's failing health on his art, offering previously unpublished correspondence that reveals the central role that Pennsylvania art collector Albert C. Barnes played in extending Demuth's life.