Thursday, April 4, 2013

Sheeler, Charles

View of New York
oil on canvas
121.9 x 92.4 cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, USA

Charles Sheeler (1883 - 1965) was an American painter and commercial photographer in the precisionist movement. He employed photograph-like images with clearly defined linear lines and dramatic light. He is recognized as one of the founders of American modernism and one of the master photographers of the 20th century.

He was born in Philadelphia. He studied art at the Pennsylvania School of Industrial Art and at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Several trips to Europe heightened his awareness of European modernism, influencing his developing style. His artistic transformation occurred when he traveled to Italy and France. Upon his return to Philadelphia, he discarded the spontaneous, bravura brushstrokes and began employing an underlying geometric structure reminiscent of early Italian Renaissance Masters he had seen, such as Piero della Francesca and Giotto, and of French modernists such as Cezanne, Braque, and Picasso. With the intent to establish order and permanence in his work, he smoothed his brushstroke, eliminating evidence of gesture and of execution.

In 1912, Sheeler had also ventured into commercial photography, focusing on architectural subjects and eventually becoming acquainted with New York avant-garde artists and collectors. His pioneering photographs, using sharp-focus effects, were also instrumental in transforming his paintings into detailed and smooth-surfaced images that reject his earlier loosely brushed style.

A solo exhibition at a New York gallery in 1922 defined Sheeler as a central proponent of Precisionism. Commissions to photograph the Ford Motor Company’s plant at River Rouge, Michigan, brought him international acclaim, as he presented a pristine view of American industry. During the 1930s, Sheeler focused his attention on painting, further developing a style based on strong geometric order for subjects of American industrial life.