I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold

I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold (1928)
Charles Demuth (1883–1935)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York)

The American poet and pediatrician William Carlos William wrote the descriptive poem “The Great Figure” in 32 words in 13 verses:

Among the rain
and lights
I saw the figure 5
in gold
on a red
fire truck
to gong clangs
siren howls
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city.

The poem describes a red firetruck with the number 5 and it consists in one large sentence distributed in 13 short lines. Probably, William Carlos Williams saw this red firetruck with its great number 5 painted in it in a few seconds among the rain and this image inspired him to combine the words in this odd poem (there is a complete analysis of “The Great Figure” in this web).

Between 1005 and 1908, the versatile painter Charles Demuth met Williams in Philadelphia and twenty years later (1928), he dedicated one of his eight abstract portraits of his friends to Williams. This portrait entitled “I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold” pays homepage to William’s poem associating an accumulation of images related to him. For example, the names Bill and Carlos and the initials WCW are clearly distinguished. We can also see a big golden 5 in front of another 5 and red rectangles in the middle of a mess of lights and chaotic grey colors. I think that it’s easy to imagine the big 5 painted in the firetruck, isn’t it?

Location: The Metropolitan Museum of New York at New York (map)


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