An abstract portrait of poet and physician William Carlos Williams, using imagery from his poem, "The Great Figure," by Charles Demuth.

Demuth completed eight abstract portraits between 1924 and 1929 as tributes to modern American artists, writers, and performers. Though not a physical likeness, Demuth created this portrait of his friend, the poet and physician William Carlos Williams, using imagery from Williams’s poem "The Great Figure," which evokes the sights and sounds of a fire engine speeding down the street. The intersecting lines, repeated "5," round forms of the numbers, lights, street lamp, and blaring sirens of the red fire engine together infuse the painting with a vibrant, urban energy. Demuth derived the title from the poem, which reads:

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


  • Title: I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold
  • Creator: Charles Demuth
  • Date Created: 1928
  • Physical Dimensions: 35 1/2 x 30 in. (90.2 x 76.2 cm)
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Medium: Oil, graphite, ink, and gold leaf on paperboard (Upson board)

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