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The Cover
February 9, 2011

Incense of a New Church

JAMA. 2011;305(6):539. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.2012

Billowing smoke wafts its way up and winds around, engulfing a quintessentially American factory building, in Incense of a New Church (cover). In a paean of the Precisionist style, the vapors' curves contrast with the verticality of smokestacks and the intercalated diagonal rooflines; even the blue background possesses linear definition. Charles Demuth (1883-1935), the prime practitioner of Precisionism, painted many industrial scenes—Machine Age landscapes—near his home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Incense of a New Church, replete with the Cubist influence of multiplicity, depicts Demuth's vision of the Lukens Steel yards in Coatesville. Demuth initially worked in watercolor: he produced beautiful, sensitive portraits of flowers, and he illustrated written works, including Nana by Émile Zola. Not content with exploring purely visual art, Demuth participated in theatrical performances; he wrote plays and had at least 2 short prose efforts published in avant-garde journals. However, after about 1916, the pretty, soft, and naturalistic paintings of the flora found in his mother's garden began to yield to the harder-edged, geometric, tension-filled executions of man-made subjects. The shift in his style resulted, perhaps, from the unease in the painter's personal life.