Having found himself in Chicago for several months, the Arts Club in Chicago held a retrospective of Bernard Boutet de Monvel’s paintings and reliefs in November 1927, at the initiative of Rue W. Carpenter (1879-1931), following the January exhibition presenting the sculpture of Constantin Brancusi. Shortly thereafter, Boutet de Monvel received a commission for an important decorative painting from the director of A.G. Becker & Co., an investment banker on LaSalle street. Searching to focus his work on exonerating the industrial and urban modernity of triumphant, Jazz Age America, the architect Samuel A. Marx (1885-1964) advised him to visit South Works, a steelworks belonging to US Steel, located one hour from Chicago.
On the 28th January 1928, the painter, full of enthusiasm, wrote to his wife: ‘I have just spent half a day in an unimaginably cold but bright sunshine, going to visit a steelworks one hour away from the city. I needed it for one of my backdrops. It is truly, admirably picturesque: such is the life of a painter!’
Whilst there, with the help of his Kodak Brownie, the artist took astonishing photographs showing skips, gas pipes, support structures, walkways, cyclone filters, casting halls, cowper batteries, all emerging from a dramatic smoke in close-up and low-angled shots. Using these images of objectivity as a starting point, he painted even the summertime with an astounding photorealist precision, and for his own pleasure, two paintings which would serve as a foundation for his Precisionist works. Today, the first of these is in the collection of the National Museum of Modern Art – Centre Georges Pompidou; the second, the most important in terms of its size and the modernity of its composition, is presented here.