When painter Charles Demuth took the varied hues and layers presented in William Carlos William’s "The Great Figure" and transformed the verbal into the visual, he probably didn’t anticipate the influence of what would become his most noted painting, “The Figure 5 in Gold." This "Anatomy of a Masterpiece" in the Wall Street Journal explores how the poem inspired not only the painting but the Pop Art explosion that came after Demuth:

On its own, this visual impact might have made Charles Demuth's most famous work into an icon of American art. But "The Figure 5 in Gold" has much more going for it. It's the best work in a genre Demuth created, the "poster portrait." It's a witty homage to his close friend, the poet William Carlos Williams, and a transliteration into paint of his poem, "The Great Figure." It's a decidedly American work made at a time when U.S. artists were just moving beyond European influences. It's a reference to the intertwined relationships among the arts in the 1920s, a moment of cross-pollination that led to American Modernism. And it anticipates Pop art.

Originally Published: July 12th, 2010