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Franklin Kelly, “Charles Sheeler/Classic Landscape/1931,” American Paintings, 1900–1945, NGA Online Editions, http://purl.org/nga/collection/artobject/105596 (accessed December 09, 2016).

 

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Overview

Charles Sheeler was a master of both painting and photography, and his work in one medium influenced and shaped his work in the other.[1] In 1927, he was commissioned to photograph the Ford Motor Company's new River Rouge Plant near Detroit. Then the world's largest industrial complex, employing more than 75,000 workers, the plant produced Ford's Model A, successor to the famed Model T. Sheeler's photographs were used for the company's advertising, but he found himself greatly inspired by the subject, which he declared "incomparably the most thrilling I have had to work with."[2] In 1930, he began painting oils of the plant, creating over the next six years American Landscape (1930, The Museum of Modern Art, New York), Classic Landscape (1931), River Rouge Plant (1932, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York), and City Interior (1936, Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA).

Classic Landscape depicts an area of the plant where cement was made from by-products of the car manufacturing process. The silos in the middle distance stored the cement until it could be shipped for sale. Sheeler's choice of this relatively anonymous scene, rather than one connected with the production of automobiles, suggests that his interest lay in making a generalized portrait of the landscape of industry. That, in part, may explain his use in the painting's title of the word "classic," with its connotations of typical or standard. But "classic" also evokes the culture of ancient Greece and Rome, and Sheeler certainly implies that this modern American scene can be compared to the high achievements of the classical past. One might well be reminded of classical architecture by the temple-like form of the silos and the pediment-like roofs of the nearby buildings, but the matter clearly went beyond superficial resemblance. Like others of his day, Sheeler admired architecture that was functional and straightforward, with shape and plan determined by specifics of use rather than by conventions of style and decoration. For the great French architect Le Corbusier, whose influential Towards a New Architecture Sheeler probably read around the same time he was photographing the Rouge plant, the timeless principles of good design embodied by ancient architecture were indeed still at work in "the American grain elevators and factories, the magnificent first-fruits of the new age."[3] The iconic power and special importance of Classic Landscape were recognized from the time of its first public exhibition in New York in 1931. Through the years, it has become one of the most widely exhibited and best-known works of its era, and today it stands as a key masterwork of 20th-century American art.

[1] This overview is adapted from text previously published in Art for the Nation: Collecting for a New Century (Washington, DC, 2000).

[2] Letter to Walter Arensberg, Oct. 25, 1927; quoted in Theodore E. Stebbins Jr. and Norman Keyes Jr., Charles Sheeler: The Photographs (Boston, 1987), 25.

[3] Le Corbusier, Towards a New Architecture, trans. Frederick Etchells (London, 1927), 21.

Entry

Charles Sheeler was a master of both painting and photography, and his work in each medium influenced and shaped his work in the other.[1] But Sheeler also recognized that there was a fundamental difference in the creative processes of each activity. As he observed in 1937, "Photography is nature seen from the eyes outward, painting from the eyes inward. Photography records inalterably the single image while painting records a plurality of images willfully directed by the artist."[2]

In 1927, Sheeler went to the Ford Motor Company's River Rouge plant near Detroit on a photographic commission. The sprawling facility, covering more than 2,000 acres and employing more than 75,000 workers, was at the time the largest and most technically advanced industrial complex in existence.[3] The Detroit architect Albert Kahn, a pioneer of modern factory design, was responsible for most of the plant's structures. Virtually self-sufficient and self-contained, the Rouge brought together at one site all the operations necessary to assemble automobiles. It was there, beginning in 1927, that Ford produced its Model A, successor to the famed Model T, 15 million of which had been built since mass production had begun in 1913. Ford's investment in the Model A and the Rouge plant was enormous, and, facing increasing competition from General Motors, the company undertook an aggressive advertising campaign in support of the new vehicle and its corporate image. N. W. Ayer & Son of Philadelphia handled the campaign and Vaughn Flannery, the firm's art director, convinced Ford to commission a series of photographs of the Rouge that would stand as a creative portrait of American industry.[4] It was Flannery who recommended Sheeler, already well known for his photographs of still lifes; New York buildings; Bucks County, Pennsylvania, interiors and exteriors; and fashion and portrait photography for Vogue and Vanity Fair.[5]

Sheeler arrived at the River Rouge plant late in October 1927 and immediately declared the subject "incomparably the most thrilling I have had to work with."[6] The photographs that he would complete over the next six weeks are justly considered among his greatest achievements in the medium. But his experiences at the plant had another result, one that was slower in developing, but that ultimately had a greater and more profound effect on his art. As Sheeler explained: "I was out there on a mission of photography. Period. And when I got there, I took a chance on opening the other eye and so then I thought maybe some pictures could be pulled out. But I had to come home, and it was several years later that they had really digested and they started coming out."[7] The "other eye" Sheeler opened while working at the Rouge was that of the painter, and with that eye he was able to see the potential that the compositions he was framing photographically held for paintings. In 1928, he produced two small watercolors of Rouge subjects, River Rouge Industrial Plant [fig. 1], which reproduced the upper center of his photograph Salvage Ship—Ford Plant [fig. 2], and Classic Landscape, also presumably based on photographs, although none is known of this view today. Throughout his career, Sheeler made many fine works on paper, but his preferred media were pencil, conté crayon, gouache, or tempera rather than watercolor. If the two 1928 Rouge watercolors were based directly on photographs, perhaps the artist was experimenting with how best to "pull out" pictures from them. The following year, Sheeler used one of the photographs he shot in 1928 of the British ocean liner RMS Majestic as his "blueprint" in creating the oil Upper Deck (1929, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University).[8] At this point, he believed he had found the means of fusing precise visual realism with powerful formal abstraction. As he said: "This is what I have been getting ready for. I had come to feel that a picture could have incorporated in it the structural design implied in abstraction and be presented in a wholly realistic manner."[9]

With this newly won mastery of process came a new sense of purpose, and Sheeler returned to his River Rouge photographs. From 1930 to 1936, he created a stunning series of oil paintings of the plant: American Landscape [fig. 3], Classic Landscape (this work), River Rouge Plant [fig. 4], and City Interior [fig. 5].[10] In the latter, which depicts a scene in the area of the plant's huge blast furnaces, Sheeler portrayed a dense concentration of structures and forms evocative, as the title suggests, of an urban area. American Landscape and Classic Landscape are more openly composed and expansive. The area in the complex they—and River Rouge Plant—depict is near the cement plant, with its distinctive landmarks, a single, tall smokestack, and cement storage silos [fig. 6]. Cement, a by-product of the car manufacturing process, was created using slag—impurities skimmed off the top of molten iron—that was cooled and then screened and crushed.[11]

Both versions of Classic Landscape show the cement plant from a vantage point on the High Line railroad track looking north. At the left and in the center distance are the large bins for storing coal, ore, and limestone. The multiroofed building at upper right is the slag screen house; beyond is the long, low roof of the cement plant, running across almost the entire background to its terminus at the boat slip (see fig. 5). In the center distance are the six stacks of powerhouse 3. Sheeler expanded the composition in all four directions for the oil painting, with significant results. In the watercolor, the right side of the slag screen house and the railroad tracks are cropped by the edge of the paper, the cement plant smokestack runs almost to the very top of the sheet, and the left side of the composition stops just before the stacks of the glass plant would be visible. In the oil, Sheeler moved the point of view back slightly, achieving a more spacious composition and diminishing the sense of photographic cropping evident in the watercolor. The watercolor seems a more literal record of a section of a specific place ("the single image," to use Sheeler's words), whereas the oil ("a plurality of images willfully directed by the artist") presents a self-contained and integral reality of its own, complete without any reference to the world outside its borders.

Although the enlargement of the composition was perhaps Sheeler's most significant alteration in translating the watercolor into the oil, the many other subtle changes, adjustments, and additions he made are evidence of a painstaking process. Among the additions are three rivet heads forming an inverted isosceles triangle on the second cross tie from the bottom; a board walkway extending from the bottom right corner; a second crossbar supporting the cables running parallel to the tracks; a loaded railcar stopped by the slag screen house; two small, cube-shaped structures at the bottom right of the silos; two support towers for the long projecting building in front of the silos; the two smokestacks of the glass plant; and additional windows at the top left of the silos and on the shadowed facade of the building at left center. In the painting's sky, Sheeler eliminated the smoke around the stacks of powerhouse 3, added a streaming cloud of smoke coming from the cement plant stack, and a great triangular wedge of billowing clouds. Sheeler also adjusted the shadows throughout the painting, changing the more rounded forms visible in the watercolor into crisply delineated straight edges.

Through these adjustments and changes, Sheeler tightened the already strong geometry evident in the watercolor into a world based on three simple shapes: triangle, rectangle, and cylinder. The only elements present that do not precisely conform to one of these shapes—the piles in the storage bins and the clouds in the sky—are organic rather than man-made. Yet they, too, are ultimately subsumed by geometry, for the group of bins in perspective and the swath of clouds form two great triangles that echo each other in reverse. In Classic Landscape, Sheeler created his most elegant proof of what he had asserted just two years earlier, "that a picture could have incorporated in it the structural design implied in abstraction and be presented in a wholly realistic manner."

Classic Landscape is, of course, more than simply an aesthetic demonstration piece, for its subject, the modern industrial landscape, embraced a number of meanings. Sheeler's photographs of the Rouge plant mainly centered on the manufacturing processes of the plant, on its functions and its purposes. That is hardly surprising given their origins in the commission from Ford. But in selecting subjects for paintings he was free to do as he wished, so it is significant that he chose not to depict scenes that had to do with the production of automobiles, the main purpose of the Rouge. Rather, he selected a more anonymous scene, not tied to a specific place or use, but representative generally of the landscape of industry. That, in part, explains his use in the painting's title of the word "classic," with its connotations of typical or standard. But "classic," of course, also evokes the culture of ancient Greece and Rome, and Sheeler surely intended that association as well. In that light, Classic Landscape, a world of clarity, precision, and order, could be seen as a modern equivalent of the highest achievements of the classical past. Indeed, as has often been pointed out, the silos of the cement plant suggest the forms of a Greek Doric temple.[12] In this juxtaposition of the modern and the ancient (if only by implication), Classic Landscape reminds one of the early "metaphysical" cityscapes of the Italian surrealist Giorgio De Chirico (Italian, 1888 - 1978). Paintings by De Chirico like The Soothsayer's Recompense [fig. 7] and The Arrival (1912–1913, The Barnes Foundation), with their dramatically receding perspectives, stark shadows, sharply delineated forms, eerie emptiness, and smoking machines played off against classical buildings, may well have influenced Sheeler in the Rouge paintings.[13] But whereas De Chirico's fantasies are tinged with nostalgia for the past and uneasiness about the potential inadequacies of the present, Sheeler's real American scene implies a more harmonious accommodation of past and present.

Indeed, for Sheeler the issue was clearly not that the silos looked like an ancient temple, but that their appearance was the result of similar principles of design that were attuned to form and function rather than to superficial style. In a 1925 essay, he observed that the foundation of Greek art lay in its "perfect adjustment of concrete form to abstract thought. . . . as great purity of plastic expression may be achieved through the medium of objective forms as has been thought to be obtainable by some of our present day artists, by means of a purely abstract presentation of forms."[14]

Sheeler was not, of course, alone in such reasoning and in seeing its relevance to his own time. In 1927, Le Corbusier's Vers Une Architecture, first published in 1923 in French, appeared in an English edition as Towards a New Architecture. Sheeler very likely knew the book.[15] Moreover, it may well have been influential in leading Vaughn Flannery to commission the Rouge photographs, for Le Corbusier's book was full of praise for American industrial architecture.[16] Towards a New Architecture opens with a section entitled "The Engineer's Aesthetic and Architecture," in which Le Corbusier rejects the dominance of style in determining architectural form and stresses instead three essential principles: "MASS . . . the element by which our senses perceive and measure and are most fully affected. SURFACE . . . the envelope of the mass and which can diminish or enlarge the sensation the latter gives us. PLAN . . . the generator both of mass and surface and . . . that by which the whole is irrevocably fixed."[17] He continued: "Architecture is the masterly, correct and magnificent play of masses brought together in light. Our eyes are made to see forms in light; light and shade reveal these forms; cubes, cones, spheres, cylinders or pyramids are the great primary forms which light reveals to advantage; the image of these is distinct and tangible within us and without ambiguity. It is for that reason that these are beautiful forms, the most beautiful forms."[18] For Le Corbusier, history offered ample evidence to support his views: "Egyptian, Greek or Roman architecture is an architecture of prisms, cubes and cylinders, pyramids or spheres: the Pyramids, the Temple of Luxor, the Parthenon, the Coliseum, Hadrian's Villa."[19] But when he surveyed the buildings of his own time Le Corbusier found that engineers, not architects, were the ones who understood these principles:

Not in the pursuit of an architectural idea, but simply guided by the results of calculation (derived from the principles which govern our universe) and the conception of A LIVING ORGANISM, the ENGINEERS of to-day make use of the primary elements and, by coordinating them in accordance with the rules, provoke in us architectural emotions and thus make the work of man ring in unison with the universal order.

Thus we have the American grain elevators and factories, the magnificent FIRST-FRUITS of the new age. THE AMERICAN ENGINEERS OVERWHELM WITH THEIR CALCULATIONS OUR EXPIRING ARCHITECTURE.[20]

Le Corbusier's ideas were much influenced by the achievements of modernist painting in the first decades of the 20th century, and he recognized what he called "the vital change brought about by cubism and later researches."[21] His identification of architecture's fundamental forms brings to mind not only the works of Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881 - 1973) and Georges Braque (French, 1882 - 1963), but also recalls Paul Cézanne's advice to "treat nature by the means of the cylinder, the sphere, the cone, everything brought into proper perspective."[22] Cézanne, and later Picasso and Braque, were crucial catalysts for Sheeler as he moved away from the rather conventional manner of painting he learned from his teacher William Merritt Chase (American, 1849 - 1916), so Le Corbusier's thoughts must have had particular appeal for him. And it is likely, too, that Sheeler took special notice of the illustrations in Towards a New Architecture, several of which depicted structures remarkably similar to those he would paint in Classic Landscape [fig. 8]. This would suggest, then, that at the time he painted Classic Landscape Sheeler must have shared Le Corbusier's favorable and optimistic view of the potential such commercial structures held for inspiring the development of a new and more humane functional architecture. Sheeler also identified industrial scenes as the loci of a new kind of secular spirituality. As he said in an oft-quoted remark: "it may be true, as has been said, that our factories are our substitutes for religious expression."[23]

The iconic power and special importance of Classic Landscape were recognized from the time of its first exhibition at Edith Halpert's Downtown Gallery in New York in 1931. The following year it was purchased by Edsel Ford, making it the only one of Sheeler's Rouge paintings to be owned by the Ford family.[24] As its exhibition record indicates, Classic Landscape in the years since has been one of the most widely shown of all American 20th-century paintings. It has also long been central to virtually every discussion of an American style known as precisionism, even though the definition and use of that term have been the subject of wide and continuous scholarly debate.[25] Like so many other art historical labels, including impressionism and cubism, precisionism functions best as an umbrella term under which a number of artists (for example, George Ault (American, 1891 - 1948), Francis Criss, Charles Demuth (American, 1883 - 1935), Preston Dickinson, and Miklos Suba, in addition to Sheeler) with similar aesthetic sensibilities may be grouped. Attempts to hone the definition to the point where it can be used consistently to identify what is or is not a precisionist painting or who was or was not a precisionist inevitably become uselessly hobbled by restrictions, exceptions, and complications. Moreover, many of Sheeler's and other American artists' works have affinities with, and were doubtless influenced by, works from abroad, whether the paintings of the German Neue Sachlichkeit artists, the French purists, or even the Russian constructivists.

In the end, of course, the exceptional power and haunting beauty of Classic Landscape are due not to the sources and influences behind its creation or the meanings it may convey, important as all of those may be. Like so many truly great works of art it is perfect and complete in itself, requiring neither additions nor deletions, nor reference to anything but itself. And Sheeler knew perfectly well just how removed what he had created was from the actualities of the real world. This was art, not life. When asked why he had not included people in Classic Landscape, he tellingly replied: "Well, it’s my illustration of what a beautiful world it would be if there were no people in it."[26] Sheeler's friend the poet William Carlos Williams also understood what he had achieved. Classic Landscape, in his words, was a "separate reality.”[27]

Franklin Kelly

September 29, 2016

Inscription

lower right: Sheeler-1931.

Provenance

Acquired 1931 from the artist by (The Downtown Gallery, New York); purchased 1932 by Edsel B. Ford [d. 1943], Dearborn, Michigan; by inheritance to his wife, Mrs. Edsel B. Ford [d. 1976], Grosse Point Shores, Michigan; her estate; by transfer 1982 to the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House, Detroit; (sale, Sotheby's, New York, 2 June 1983, no. 210); (Hirshl & Adler Galleries, New York; Kennedy Gallery, New York; Long & Company Gallery, Houston); purchased 4 June 1984 by Mr. and Mrs. Barney A. Ebsworth, St. Louis; gift 2000 to NGA.

Exhibition History
1931
Charles Sheeler, Exhibition of Recent Works, The Downtown Gallery, New York, 1931, checklist no. 4.
1932
American Contemporary Paintings and Sculpture, The Society of Arts and Crafts, Detroit, March-April 1932, no. 26.
1932
American Painting & Sculpture, 1862-1932, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1932-1933, no. 95, repro.
1932
Paintings and Drawings by Charles Sheeler, The Arts Club of Chicago, January-February 1932, no. 3.
1933
A Loan Exhibition of Retrospective American Painting, The Society of Arts and Crafts, Detroit, 1933, typewritten checklist, no. 13.
1934
Water Colours and Drawings by Sheeler, Hopper and Burchfield, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1934, no catalogue.
1935
An Exhibition of Paintings by Charles Burchfield and Charles Sheeler, The Society of Arts and Crafts, Detroit, 1935, no. 17.
1938
Americans at Home: 32 Painters and Sculptors, The Downtown Gallery, New York, October 1938, no. 25.
1938
Trois Siècles d'Art au Etats-Unis, Musée de Jeu de Paume, Paris, May-July 1938, no. 154, fig. 35.
1939
Art in Our Time: An Exhibition to Celebrate the Tenth Anniversary of the Museum of Modern Art and the Opening of its New Building, Museum of Modern Art, New York, April 1939, no. 140, repro.
1939
Charles Sheeler: Paintings, Drawings, and Photographs, Museum of Modern Art, New York, October-November 1939, no. 22, repro.
1946
American Painting from the Eighteenth Century to the Present Day, Tate Gallery, London, 1946, no. 192.
1953
An Exhibition of Contemporary Art Collected by American Business, Meta Mold Aluminium Company, Cedarburg, Wisconsin, 1953, no. 40, repro. (incorrectly listed as owned by Henry Ford II).
1954
Ben Shahn, Charles Sheeler, Joe Jones, Detroit Institute of Arts, March-April 1954, no. 7, as Classical Landscape, incorrectly dated 1932.
1954
Charles Sheeler: A Retrospective Exhibition, Art Galleries, University of California, Los Angeles; M.H. DeYoung Memorial Museum, San Franisco; Fort Worth Art Center; Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, Utica; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; San Diego Fine Arts Gallery, 1954, no. 15.
1957
Painting in America: The Story of 450 Years, Detroit Institute of Arts, 1957, no. 164, fig. 161, as Modern Classic.
1958
The Iron Horse in Art: The Railroad as It Has Been Interpreted by Artists of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Fort Worth Art Center, 1958, no. 96, fig. 24.
1960
The Precisionist View in American Art, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Detroit Institute of Arts; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1960-1961, unnumbered catalogue.
1963
The Quest of Charles Sheeler, 83 Works Honoring His 80th Year, University of Iowa, Iowa City, 1963, no. 37, fig. 10.
1966
Art of the United States: 1670-1966, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1966, no. 255, repro.
1967
Charles Sheeler, A Retrospective Exhibition, Cedar Rapids Art Center, 1967, no. 9, repro.
1968
Charles Sheeler, National Collection of Fine Arts (now National Museum of American Art), Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1968-1969, no. 63, repro.
1969
Detroit Collects, Selections from the Collections of the Friends of Modern Art, Detroit Institute of Arts, 1969, no. 168, as Classic Landscape--River Rouge.
1976
Arts and Crafts in Detroit 1906-1976: The Movement, The Society, The School, Detroit Institute of Arts, 1976-1977, no. 239, repro. (incorrectly dated 1932).
1977
Lines of Power, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, 1977, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
1977
The Modern Spirit: American Painting 1908-1935, Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh; Hayward Gallery, London, 1977, no. 101, repro.
1978
The Rouge: The Image of Industry in the Art of Charles Sheeler and Diego Rivera, Detroit Institute of Arts, 1978, no. 27, repro.
1978
William Carlos Williams and the American Scene, 1920-1940, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1978-1979, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
1979
2 Jahrzehnte Amerikanische Malerei, 1920-1940, Städtische Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf; Kunsthaus, Zurich; Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, 1979, no. 78, repro.
1980
Paris and the American Avant-Garde, 1900-1925, Kalamazoo Institute of Arts; Jesse Besser Museum, Alpena, Michigan; University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor; Krasl Art Center, St. Joseph, Michigan; Kresge Art Center Gallery, East Lansing; Ella Sharp Museum, Jackson, Michigan, 1980, no. 30.
1984
The Art of Collecting, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, 1984, no. 44, repro.
1986
The Machine Age in America, 1918-1941, Brooklyn Museum; Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; High Museum of Art, Atlanta, 1986-1988, not in catalogue (shown only in Brooklyn and Pittsburgh).
1987
Charles Sheeler: Paintings, Drawings, Photographs, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas, 1987-1988, no. 37, repro. (shown only in Boston and Dallas).
1987
The Ebsworth Collection: American Modernism, 1911-1947, Saint Louis Art Museum; Honolulu Academy of Arts; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1987-1988, no. 61, repro.
1991
The 1920s: Age of the Metropolis, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1991, no. 590, fig. 608.
1993
American Art in the 20th Century: Painting and Sculpture 1913-1993, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin; Royal Academy of Arts, London, September-December 1993, no. 54, repro. (shown only in London).
1993
American Impressions: Masterworks from American Art Forum Collections, 1875-1935, National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C., March-July 1993, no catalogue.
1994
Precisionism in America 1915-1941: Reordering Reality, Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey; Norton Gallery of Art, West Palm Beach; Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio; Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1994-1995, no. 65.
1999
The American Century: Art and Culture, 1900-1950, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1999, fig. 292.
2000
Art for the Nation: Collecting for a New Century, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2000-2001, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
2000
Twentieth-Century American Art: The Ebsworth Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Seattle Art Museum, 2000, no. 58, repro.
2006
Charles Sheeler: Across Media, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Art Institute of Chicago; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, 2006-2007, no. 27, repro.
2009
After Many Springs: Regionalism, Modernism, and the Midwest, Des Moines Art Center; St. Louis Art Museum, 2009, pl. 3 (shown only in Des Moines).
2015
Picturing the Americas: Landscape Painting from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville; Pinacoteca do Estado de Sao Paulo, 2015-1016, unnumbered catalogue (shown only in Toronto and Bentonville).
2016
American After the Fall: Painting in the 1930s, Art Institute of Chicago; Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris; Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2016-2017, no. 44, repro. (shown only in Chicago).
Bibliography
1931
Charles Sheeler, Exhibition of Recent Works. Exh. cat. The Downtown Gallery, New York, 1931: checklist no. 4.
1931
Devree, Howard V. "Charles Sheeler's Exhibition." New York Times (19 November 1931): 32, col. 6.
1931
"Exhibition in New York: Charles Sheeler, Downtown Gallery." Art News 30, no. 8 (1931): 8.
1931
Kootz, Samuel M. "Ford Plant Photos of Charles Sheeler." Creative Art 8, no. 4 (April 1931): 99, repro.
1931
McCormick, W.B. "Machine Age Debunked." New York American (26 November 1931): 19, col. 2 (also printed in Los Angeles Examiner, 9 December 1931).
1931
Pemberton, Murdock. "The Art Galleries: The Strange Case of Charles Sheeler." The New Yorker 7 (28 November 1931): 48.
1932
American Contemporary Paintings and Sculpture. Exh. cat. The Society of Art and Crafts, Detroit, March-April 1932: no. 26.
1932
American Painting and Sculpture, 1862-1932. Exh. cat. Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1932-1933: no. 95, repro.
1932
Brace, Ernest. "Charles Sheeler." Creative Art 11 (October 1932): 98, 104, repro.
1932
Paintings and Drawings by Charles Sheeler. Exh. cat. The Arts Club of Chicago, Chicago, January-February 1932: no. 3.
1932
Ringel, Frederick J., ed. America as Americans See It. New York, 1932: repro. facing 303.
1933
A Loan Exhibition of Retrospective American Painting. Exh. cat. The Society of Arts and Crafts, Detroit, 1933, typewritten checklist, no. 13.
1933
"New Phases of American Art." London Studio 5 (February 1933): 90, repro.
1934
"Les Etats Unis." L'Amour d'Art 15 (November 1934): 467, fig. 606.
1934
New York Times Book Review 82 (7 July 1934): 4, sec. 5, repro.
1935
An Exhibition of Paintings by Charles Burchfield and Charles Sheeler. Exh. cat. The Society of Arts and Crafts, Detroit, 1935, no. 17.
1935
"Loan Listings." Fogg Art Museum Annual Report. Cambridge, 1934-1935.
1936
"Charles Sheeler--Painter and Photographer." The Index of Twentieth Century Artists 3, no. 4 (January 1936): 231.
1938
Americans at Home: 32 Painters and Sculptors. Exh. cat. The Downtown Gallery, New York, October 1938, no. 25.
1938
Jewell, Edward Alden. "Art of Americans Put on Exhibition." New York Times (5 October 1938): col. 1, "Art."
1938
"New Exhibition of the Week: Works that were Shown Abroad." Art News 37, no. 5 (15 October 1938): 13.
1938
Rourke, Constance. Charles Sheeler, Artist in the American Tradition. New York, 1938: 83, 147-148, 153, 166, 194, repro.
1938
Sweeney, James J. "L'art Contemporain aux Etats-Unis." Cahiers d'art 13 (1938): 61, repro.
1938
Trois siècles d'art aux États-Unis: exposition organisée en collaboration avec le Museum of Modern Art, New-York. Exh. cat. Musée du Jeu de Paume, Paris, May-July 1938, no. 154, fig. 35.
1938
Whelan, Anne. "Barn Is Thing of Beauty to Charles Sheeler, Artist." The Bridgeport Sunday Post (21 August 1938): B4.
1939
Art in Our Time: An Exhibition to Celebrate the Tenth Anniversary of the Museum of Modern Art and the Opening of its New Building. Exh. cat. Museum of Modern Art, New York, April 1939, no. 140, repro.
1939
B., C. "Art of Charles Sheeler." The Christian Science Monitor 31 (14 October 1939): 12, col. 3.
1939
Bulletin of the Museum of Modern Art 6 (May-June 1939): 13, repro.
1939
Charles Sheeler: Paintings, Drawings, and Photographs. Introduction by William Carlos Williams. Exh. cat. Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1939, no. 22, repro.
1939
Coates, Robert M. "The Art Galleries/A Sheeler Retrospective." The New Yorker 15 (14 October 1939): 55.
1939
Cortissoz, Royal. "Types of American, British, and French Art." New York Herald Tribune 99, no. 33 (8 October 1939): 8, sec. VI, col. 1-5.
1939
Crowninshield, Frank. "Charles Sheeler's 'Americana'." Vogue 94 (15 October 1939): 106.
1939
"Exhibits Work of Three Decades." The Villager (Greenwich Village) 7, no. 28 (12 October 1939): 7, col. 3.
1939
Genauer, Emily. "Charles Sheeler in One-Man Show." New York World Telegram 82 (7 October 1939): 34, col. 1.
1939
Jewell, Edward Alden. "Sheeler in Retrospect." New York Times (8 October 1939): 9, col. 3.
1939
"Museum of Modern Art to Open Its Fifth Show of a Living Artist's Works." New York Herald Tribune 99 (4 October 1939): 21, col. 2-3.
1939
T., B. "The Home Forum." The Christian Science Monitor 31 (28 June 1939): 8, col. 2-5, repro.
1940
Beam, Laura. "Development of the Artist/.../IV/Charles Sheeler." Manuscript, American Association of University Women, 1940: 23.
1940
New York Times Book Review 89 (15 September 1940): 3, sec. 6, col. 3-5, repro.
1946
American Painting from the Eighteenth Century to the Present Day. Exh. cat. Tate Gallery, London, 1946: no. 192.
1948
Born, Wolfgang. American Landscape Painting, An Interpretation. New Haven, 1948: xiii, 211, 213, fig. 142.
1953
An Exhibition of Contemporary Art Collected by American Business. Exh. cat. Meta Mold Aluminum Company, Cedarburg, WI, 1953: no. 40, repro. (incorrectly listed as owned by Henry Ford II).
1953
"Cedarburg Shows Off Top Art." The Milwaukee Journal, Picture Journal (7 June 1953): 3, repro. (incorrectly listed as lent by Henry Ford II).
1954
Ben Shahn, Charles Sheeler, Joe Jones, Detroit Institute of Arts. Exh. cat. Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, 1954: no. 7, as Classical Landscape, incorrectly dated 1932.
1954
Charles Sheeler: A Retrospective Exhibition. Exh. cat. UCLA Art Galleries, Los Angeles; M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco; Fort Worth Art Center; Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, Utica; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; Fine Arts Gallery, San Diego. Los Angeles, 1954: no. 15.
1954
Frankenstein, Alfred. "This World/The Charles Sheeler Exhibition." San Francisco Chronicle 18 (28 November 1954): 21, col. 1, magazine section.
1954
Wight, Frederick S. "Charles Sheeler." Art in America 42, no. 3 (October 1954): 192, 197, repro.
1954
Williams, William Carlos. "Postscript by a Poet." Art in America 42, no. 3 (October 1954): 215.
1955
Chanin, A.L. "Charles Sheeler: Purist Brush and Camera Eye." Art News 54, no. 4 (Summer 1955): 72.
1955
Kepes, Gyorgy. "The New Landscape in Art and Science." Art in America 43, no. 3 (October 1955): 35, repro.
1955
Sorenson, George N. "Portraits of Machine Age: Sheeler Exhibition Called Year's Most Important." The San Diego Union (9 January 1955): repro.
1956
Richardson, Edgar P. Painting in America: The Story of 450 Years. New York, 1956: fig. 161 (as Modern Classic).
1956
Richardson, Edgar P. "Three American Painters: Sheeler--Hopper--Burchfield." Perspectives USA (Summer 1956): following 112, repro.
1957
Freedman, Leonard, ed. Looking at Modern Painting. New York, 1957: 100-101, repro.
1957
Painting in America: The Story of 150 Years. Exh. cat. Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, 1957: no. 164, fig. 161, as Modern Classic.
1957
Wight, Frederick S. "Charles Sheeler." In New Art in America, Fifty Painters of the 20th Century. Greenwich, Connecticut, 1957: 97, 102, repro.
1958
The Iron Horse in Art: The Railroad as It Has Been Interpreted by Artists of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Exh. cat. Fort Worth Art Center, Fort Worth, TX, 1958: no. 96, fig. 24.
1959
Craven, George M. "Sheeler at Seventy-Five." College Art Journal 18, no. 2 (Winter 1959): 138.
1960
The Precisionist View in American Art. Exh. cat. Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco. Minneapolis, 1960: n.p.
1963
Dochterman, Lillian N. "The Stylistic Development of the Work of Charles Sheeler." Ph.D. dissertation, University of Iowa, Iowa City, 1963: 49-50, 56, 58-60, 65, 320, no. 31.153, repro.
1963
The Quest of Charles Sheeler: 83 Works Honoring His 80th Year. Exh. cat. University of Iowa, Iowa City, 1963: no. 37, fig. 10.
1965
Richardson, Edgar P. Painting in America from 1502 to the Present. New York, 1965: 341, repro. 377.
1966
Art of the United States: 1670-1966. Exh. cat. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1966: no. 255, repro.
1967
Charles Sheeler: A Retrospective Exhibition. Exh. cat. Cedar Rapids Art Center, Cedar Rapids, IA, 1967: no. 9, repro.
1967
The Artist in America. Compiled by the editors of Art in America. New York, 1967: 169.
1968
Charles Sheeler. Exh. cat. National Collection of Fine Arts (now National Museum of American Art), Washington; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia; Whitney Museum of America Art, New York. Washington, DC, 1968: no. 63, repro.
1969
Selections from the Collections of the Friends of Modern Art. Exh. cat. Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, 1969: no. 168, as Classic Landscape--River Rouge.
1972
Hunter, Sam. American Art of the 20th Century. New York, 1972: 91, pl. 192.
1973
Bennet, Ian. A History of American Painting. London, 1973: 185.
1974
Davidson, Abraham A. The Story of American Painting. New York, 1974: 131-133, no. 118, repro.
1975
Friedman, Martin. Charles Sheeler: Paintings, Drawings, and Photographs. New York, 1975: 8, 95, 112-113, pl. 17.
1976
Arts and Crafts in Detroit 1906-1976: The Movement, The Society, The School. Exh. cat. Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, 1976: no. 239, repro. (incorrectly dated 1932).
1976
Silk, Gerald D. "The Image of the Automobile in Modern Art." Ph.D. dissertation, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, 1976: x, 114, 292, fig. 93.
1976
Wilmerding, John. American Art. Hammondsworth, England, and New York, 1976: 181.
1977
Brown, Milton W. The Modern Spirit: American Painting, 1908-1935. Exh. cat. Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh; Hayward Gallery, London. London, 1977: no. 101, repro.
1977
Maroney, James H. Lines of Power. Exh. cat. Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, 1977: n.p., repro.
1978
Tashjian, Dickran. William Carlos Williams and the American Scene, 1920-1940. Exh. cat. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1978: n.p.
1978
The Rouge: The Image of Industry in the Art of Charles Sheeler and Diego Rivera. Exh. cat. Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, 1978: no. 27, repro.
1978
Yeh, Susan Fillin. "Charles Sheeler's 1923 'Self-Portrait'." Arts 52, no. 5 (January 1978): 107.
1978
Yeh, Susan Fillin. "The Rouge." Arts Magazine 53 (November 1978): 8, repro.
1979
2 Jahrzehnte amerikanische Malerei 1920-1940. Exh. cat. Städtische Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf; Kunsthaus, Zürich; Palais de Beaux-Arts, Brüssel. Düsseldorf, 1979: no. 78, repro.
1979
Brown, Milton, et al. American Art: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, Decorative Arts, and Photography. New York, 1979: 427, pl. 66.
1979
Fellenberg, Walo von. "Griff nach der Realität." Weltkunst 49 (1979): 2555 repro.
1979
Towle, Tony. "Art and Literature: William Carlos Williams and the American Scene." Art in America 67, no. 3 (May-June 1979): 52, repro.
1979
Yeh, Susan Fillin. "Charles Sheeler's 'Upper Deck'." Arts 53, no. 5 (January 1979): 94.
1980
Dintenfass, Terry. Charles Sheeler (1883-1965), Classic Themes: Paintings, Drawings, and Photographs. Exh. cat. Dintenfass Gallery, New York, 1980: 9.
1980
Dozema, Marianne. American Realism in the Industrial Age. Exh. cat. Cleveland Museum of Art, 1980: fig. 16.
1980
Les Realismes, 1919-1939. Exh. cat. Georges Pompidou Centre, Paris; Staatliche Kunsthalle, Berlin. Paris, 1980: 30, 36, repro.
1980
Paris and the American Avant-Garde, 1900-1925. Exh. cat. Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, Kalamazoo, MI; Jesse Besser Museum, Alpena, MI; University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, MI; Krasl Art Center, St Joseph, MI; Kresge Art Center Gallery, East Lansing; Ella Sharp Museum, Jackson, MI. Detroit, 1980: no. 30.
1980
Sims, Patterson. Charles Sheeler, A Concentration of Works from the Permanent Collection of The Whitney Museum of American Art, a 50th Anniversary Exhibition. Exh. cat. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1980: 24-25, repro.
1980
Yeh, Susan Fillin. "Charles Sheeler, Industry, Fashion, and the Vanguard." Arts Magazine 54, no. 6 (February 1980): 158.
1981
Yeh, Susan Fillin. "Charles Sheeler and the Machine Age." Ph.D. dissertation, City University of New York, 1981: 42, 64-65, n. 126-132, 72-73, 95, 113, 145, 150, n. 31, 152, n. 57-58, 154, n. 84-85, 185-186, 189, 217, 222-224, 231, nn. 39 and 47, 296, pl. 44.
1982
Tsujimoto, Karen. Images of America: Precisionist Painting and Modern Photography. Exh. cat. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1982: 83.
1983
Art at Auction: The Year at Sotheby's, 1982-1983, London, 1983: 10, 134, color repro.
1983
"Choice Auctions." The Magazine Antiques 213 (June 1983): 23, repro.
1983
Hogrefe, Jeffrey. "Sheeler Auctioned for $1.87 Million." Washington Post (3 June 1983).
1983
Reif, Rita. "Sheeler Work Sets a Record." New York Times (3 June 1983).
1983
Stewart, Patrick L. "Charles Sheeler, William Carlos Williams, and Precisionism: A Redefinition." Arts Magazine 58, no. 3 (November 1983): 100-114.
1984
International Auction Records. Editions Mayer 17 (1984): 1271, repro.
1984
The Art of Collecting. Exh. cat. Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, 1984: no. 44, repro.
1986
Tepfer, Diane. "Twentieth Century Realism: The American Scene." In American Art Analog. Compiled by Michael David Zellman. New York, 1986: 743, 745, repro.
1986
Troyon, Carol. "The Open Window and the Empty Chair: Charles Sheeler's 'View of New York'." The American Art Journal 18, no. 2 (1986): 25.
1986
Wilson, Richard Guy, et al. The Machine Age in America, 1918-1941. Exh. cat. Brooklyn Museum, New York; Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; High Museum of Art, Atlanta. New York, 1986: not in catalogue.
1987
Colihan, J. "Industrial Landscape Paintings of Charles Sheeler." American Heritage 38, no. 7 (1987): 86-87, repro.
1987
McQuade, Donald, ed. The Harper American Literature. New York, 1987: vol. 2, color repro.
1987
Stebbins, Theodore E., and Norman Keyes, Jr. Charles Sheeler: The Photographs. Exh. cat. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1987: 34, 40.
1987
The Ebsworth Collection: American Modernism, 1911-1947. Exh. cat. Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis; Honolulu Academy of Arts, Honolulu; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Saint Louis, 1987: no. 61, repro.
1987
Troyen, Carol, and Erica E. Hirshler. Charles Sheeler: Paintings and Drawings. Exh. cat. Museum of Fine Art, Boston; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas. Boston, 1987: no. 37, repro.
1989
Lucic, Karen. "Charles Sheeler and Henry Ford: A Craft Heritage for the Machine Age." Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 65, no. 1 (1989): 38-39, 44-46, repro.
1990
Raymond Loewy: Pionier des Amerikanischen Industriedesigns. Exh. cat. Internationalen Design Zentrum, Berlin, 1990: 260, repro.
1990
Rubin, Joan Shelley. "A Convergence of Vision: Constance Rourke, Charles Sheeler, and American Art." American Quarterly 42, no. 2 (June 1990): 209, 211, repro.
1991
Clair, Jean, ed. The 1920s: Age of the Metropolis. Exh. cat. Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal, 1991: no. 590, fig. 608.
1991
Lucic, Karen. Charles Sheeler and the Cult of the Machine. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1991: 13-14, 76, 98, 102-103, 107, 114, 117, 141, pl. 37.
1991
Vetrocq, Marcia E. "Modernity and the City." Art in America (November 1991): 56.
1992
Harnsberger, R. Scott. Ten Precisionist Artists: Annotated Bibliographies. Westport, Connecticut, 1992: 230, 263, 264.
1993
"American Art: Odd Ommissions." The Economist (25 September 1993): 102, repro.
1993
Joachimides, Christos M., and Norman Rosenthal, eds. American Art in the 20th Century: Painting and Sculpture 1913-1993. Exh. cat. Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin; Royal Academy of Arts, London. Munich, 1993: no. 54, repro.
1993
Livingston, M. "American Art in the Twentieth Century: Painting and Sculpture, 1913-1993." The Burlington Magazine 135 (September 1993): 646, repro.
1994
Precisionism in America, 1915-1941: Reordering Reality. Exh. cat. Montclair Museum of Art, Montclair; Norton Gallery of Art, West Palm Beach; Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus; Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, Lincoln. New York, 1994: no. 65.
1995
Grant Wood, An American Artist Revealed. Exh. cat. Davenport Museum of Art, Iowa, 1995: 23, repro.
1995
Stavitsky, Gail. "Precisionism in America, 1915-1941: Reordering Reality." American Art Review 7, no. 1 (February-March 1995): 125, repro.
1995
Zimmer, Michael. "The Many Layers of Precisionism." New York Times (11 December 1995): repro.
1996
Fontenas, Hugues. "Un Trouble de L'Esthetique Architectural." Cahiers du Musée National d'Art Moderne 58 (Winter 1996): 97, repro.
1998
Dennis, James M. Renegade Regionalists: The Modern Independence of Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, and John Steuart Curry. Madison, 1998: 221-224, 231, repro.
1999
Haskell, Barbara. The American Century: Art and Culture 1900-1950. Exh. cat. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1999: fig. 292.
1999
Hughes, Robert. "A Nation's Self." Time (10 May 1999): 78-79, repro. [exhibition review]
1999
Maroney, Jr., James H. "Charles Sheeler Reveals the Machinery of His Soul." American Art 13, no. 2 (Summer 1999): 49.
2000
Art for the Nation: Collecting for a New Century. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2000: 104 repro., 105.
2000
Robertson, Bruce. Twentieth-Century American Art: The Ebsworth Collection. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washingtion; Seattle Art Museum, Seattle. Washington, D.C., 2000: no. 58, repro.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 420-421, no. 353, color repro.
2006
Brock, Charles. Charles Sheeler: Across Media. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington; The Art Institute of Chicago; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco. Washington and Berkeley, 2006: no. 27, repro.
2008
Miller, Angela et al. American Encounters: Art, History, and Cultural Identity. Upper Saddle River, NJ, 2008: 463-464, color fig. 14.17
2009
Balken, Debra Bricker. After Many Springs: Regionalism, Modernism, and the Midwest. Exh. cat. Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines. New Haven, 2009: pl. 3.
2012
Brock, Charles. “George Bellows: An Unfinished Life.” In George Bellows ed. Charles Brock. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Royal Academy of Arts, London. Munich, 2012: 25-24, color fig. 16.
2015
Brownlee, Peter John, Valeria Piccoli, and Georgiana Uhlyarik, eds. Picturing the Americas: Landscape Painting from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic. Exh. cat. Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; Crystal Bridge Museum of American Art, Bentonville; Pinacoteca do Estado de Sao Paolo, 2015-2016. Chicago and New Haven: 2015: 191.
2016
Barter, Judith A., ed. American After the Fall: Painting in the 1930s. Exh. cat. Art Institute of Chicago; Musee de l'Orangerie, Paris; Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2016-2017. Chicago, 2016: no. 44, 20, repro. 21, 31, 65.
2016
National Gallery of Art. Highlights from the National Gallery of Art, Washington. Washington, 2016: 297, repro.
Technical Summary

The support consists of a fine, tightly woven fabric estimated to be linen that has been lined with a similar fabric of somewhat heftier weight using a heat-seal adhesive. The original canvas was prepared with a thin, continuous layer of white priming. The tacking margins were removed when the painting was lined, so it is not immediately apparent whether the priming was applied commercially or by the artist. The original stretcher has been replaced. A preparatory graphite drawing remains visible along the edges of many of the forms and through several of the more translucent passages. Recent examination of the painting in infrared reveals somewhat random gestural lines drawn in the mounds depicted in the foreground and middle ground and in areas of the sky.[1] The paint layers are characterized by moderately rich and fluid paint that is uniformly thin and varies from translucent in some areas to opaque scumbling in others. Subtle ridges of paint exist along the edges of many of the forms.

Because a thick, excessively glossy, synthetic resin varnish coated the painting and obscured subtle textural and gloss differences, it was removed in a 2006 conservation treatment. The conservator conducting this treatment noted that there were areas of the sky where mild abrasion was obscured by retouching. After the removal of the inappropriate varnish, the surface was reunified in a way that preserved the artist’s intended gloss differences by spraying on thin layers of low molecular weight hydrocarbon resin with an airbrush.