Wednesday, February 20, 2019: Due to the impact of the approaching storm, PAFA will be closed. Students will still have access to their studios.

Box of Tricks

Charles Demuth

Box of Tricks


Charles Demuth (1883-1935)




Gouache and graphite on cardboard


19 7/8 x 15 7/8 in. irr. (50.4825 x 40.3225 cm.)

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Acquired from the Philadelphia Museum of Art in partial exchange for the John S. Phillips Collection of European drawings


Charles Demuth spent the summer of 1919 in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where he devoted his time to painting outdoor architectural themes, such as "Box of Tricks." An active member of the New York avant-garde, Demuth was intimately aware of the latest modernist trends. In this work, Demuth appropriated Cubism, with its multiplicity of viewpoints and fragmentation of form. He created a linear precision by extending the lines of his buildings and masts into space. Angular lines join to create geometric facets the reflect light and imply various experiential perspectives. While Demuth worked in watercolor and graphite on a small scale, his Precisionist style reflects the importance of industry and the influence of the machine.

Born in 1883 to an affluent patrician family in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Demuth never needed to work for a living. From 1905 to 1910 he studied at the Pennsylvania Academy under Thomas Anshutz and William Merritt Chase. He made two extended trips to Paris, the first in 1907 and a second from 1912 to 1914, when he fell under the tutelage of Marsden Hartley and a wide circle of American expatriate artists and writers. It was not until his return to New York in 1914 that Demuth embraced modernism. A consummate watercolorist, Demuth and Charles Sheeler pioneered Precisionism, which celebrated the American industrial landscape.