Charles Demuth, My Egypt, 1927. Oil, fabricated chalk, and graphite pencil on composition board, 35 15/16 × 30in. (91.3 × 76.2 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art; Purchase, with funds from Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney 31.172
NARRATOR: This building is an unusual subject for a painting. It’s a plain, industrial looking structure. The painter Charles Demuth filled the canvas with dynamic criss-crossing diagonal lines to make it more exciting to look at. He did something similar with the colors. He started with just a few, but made them more interesting by experimenting with different amounts of lightness and darkness in shapes throughout the painting.
But what kind of building is this? It’s called a grain elevator. In the early 1900s, the family farm began to be replaced by larger scale operations. Trains could move tons and tons of grain, so farmers needed new, modern storage sites. And so the grain elevator came about—and it was more like a factory than a barn. This one was in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where the artist was born. The building is tipped back slightly, to give the feeling that we are looking up at something huge. By naming the piece My Egypt Charles Demuth lets us know that this building is as important to him as the great Egyptian pyramids.