Early Abstract and Modernist Painting

Charles Demuth (1883–1935)

Welcome to Our City, 1921

Oil on canvas, 25 1/8 x 20 1/8 in. (63.8 x 51.1 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1993.3

Charles Demuth was in the vanguard of a new painting style that came to be called precisionism and is best remembered for his abstract poster-portraits. In the 1920s he produced a series of geometric depictions of his native Lancaster, Pennsylvania, including Welcome to Our City. Here, flattened interlocking red planes evoke the brick of recent industrial buildings, while the tall, slightly tilted courthouse dome in the background alludes to Lancaster’s history. Inspired by cubism and its reduction of forms to geometric components, Demuth also maintained close ties to New York City’s Dada movement. A group of letters rendered in the stark style of commercial graphics may hint at a subversive message—an ironic comment on the painting’s title and ambiguities inherent in modern American life. Welcome to Our City also demonstrates the artist’s desire to establish the regional setting as a source of inspiration for a truly national art.

Learn more about this painting on the Terra Foundation website.