3 More
Modern American Masterworks from the Ted Shen Collection


signed and dated 'Charles Sheeler - 1919' (lower right)—signed and dated again and inscribed with title (on a label affixed to the stretcher)
oil on canvas
24 x 16 in. (60.9 x 40.6 cm.)
Painted in 1919.
de Zayas Gallery, New York.
Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Litchfield Turnbull, Houston, Texas, acquired from the above, circa 1920-21.
Mr. And Mrs. James L. Whitcomb, Houston, Texas, acquired from the above, by 1982.
Richard York Gallery, New York.
Warner Collection of Gulf States Paper Corporation, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, acquired from the above, 1989.
Richard York Gallery, New York.
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1997.
The Arts Magazine, vol. 3, no. 5, May 1923, p. 339, illustrated.
C. Rourke, Charles Sheeler: Artist in the American Tradition, New York, 1938, pp. 36, 67, illustrated (as Hallway).
M. Friedman, Charles Sheeler: Paintings, Drawings, Photographs, New York, 1975, pp. 55, 89, illustrated (Hallway).
P.L. Stewart, Jr., Charles Sheeler, William Carlos Williams, and the Development of the Precisionist Aesthetic: 1917-1931, Ph.D dissertation, University of Delaware, 1981, p. 187, pl. V, illustrated (as Hallway).
R. Smith, "Art: Paintings and Drawings by Charles Sheeler," The New York Times, February 12, 1988, p. 24 (as Hallway [Interior]).
Richard York Gallery, An American Gallery: Volume V, New York, 1989, no. 22, illustrated (as Hallway [Interior]).
D.P. Curry, E.L. O’Leary, S.J. Rawles, American Dreams: Paintings and Decorative Arts from the Warner Collection, exhibition catalogue, Richmond, Virginia, 1997, p. 47, fig. 32, illustrated (as Hallway, Interior).
New York, de Zayas Gallery, Charles Sheeler, 1920 (as The Stairway).
Washington, D.C., National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Museum of Art; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Charles Sheeler, October 10, 1968-April 27, 1969, pp. 15, 36-37, 155, no. 20, illustrated (as Hallway).
Edinburgh, Scotland, Royal Scottish Academy; London, Hayward Gallery, The Modern Spirit: American Painting, 1908-1935, August 20-November 20, 1977, p. 62, no. 99 (as Hallway).
San Francisco, California, San Francisco Museum of Art; St. Louis, Missouri, The St. Louis Art Museum; Baltimore, Maryland, Baltimore Museum of Art; Des Moines, Iowa, Des Moines Art Center; Cleveland, Ohio, Cleveland Museum of Art, Images of America: Precisionist Painting and Modern Photography, September 9, 1982-October 9, 1983, pp. 77-78, 236, no. 91, illustrated (as Hallway).
Boston, Massachusetts, Museum of Fine Arts; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Dallas, Texas, Museum of Art, Charles Sheeler: Paintings, Drawings, Photographs, October 13, 1987-July 10, 1988, pp. 74-75, no. 12, illustrated (as Hallway [Interior]).
New York, Richard York Gallery, Modernism at the Salons of America: 1922-1936, October 19-December 8, 1995, pp. 13, 21, no. 59, illustrated (as Hallway [Interior]).
Brooklyn, New York, The Brooklyn Museum, A Family Album: Brooklyn Collects, March 2-July 1, 2001.

Brought to you by

Tylee Abbott
Tylee Abbott Vice President, Head of American Art

Lot Essay

A leading member of the Precisionist movement, Charles Sheeler employed his training in photography to create an art form which questioned the hard boundaries between representation and reality. Painting both industrial and agrarian subjects alike, Sheeler’s unique fusion of art, industry and the modern American landscape earned him the reputation as one of the most revered American artists of the twentieth century. Hailed as “the strongest canvas of his early years” by Roberta Smith, Interior captures that elusive boundary between photography and painting in his distilled, refined clarity of style, with Cubist undertones. (The New York Times, “Art: Paintings and Drawings by Charles Sheeler,” February 12, 1988, p. 24)

In 1910, Sheeler rented an eighteenth-century house in Doylestown, Pennsylvania with fellow modernist Morton Livingston Schamberg as his roommate. During this period, he taught himself photography while also developing his own characteristic painting approach. Interior is one of the last Doylestown paintings Sheeler created before moving to New York in 1919. The present work relates to a series of twelve photographs he completed of the Doylestown architecture from 1914-17, and serves as the first exploration of one of his important motifs—secluded staircases and hallways. Later works on this theme include major paintings such as The Upstairs (1938, Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio); Stairway to Studio (1924, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) and Staircase, Doylestown (1925, Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Gardens, Washington, D.C.).

Sheeler’s empty hallway and staircase paintings relate to Surrealist artists such as Giorgio de Chirico. Martin Friedman explains, “It is generally understood that Cubism was germinal to Sheeler’s style but, in an almost subliminal way, so was Surrealism. Only those American artists who had close contact with Surrealism’s European progenitors really comprehended its neurotic mystique…Pragmatic and nonmystical as he was, Sheeler’s windowless buildings, streets extending towards infinity, and hermetic landscapes are related to the imagery of Surrealist ‘hand-painted’ dreams. Sheeler was always fascinated by enigmatic aspects of the staircase, a favorite Surrealist subject and a persistent theme in his photographs and paintings, and [Interior], 1919, with its stairwell reminiscent of classical architecture suggests a De Chirico interior.” (Charles Sheeler, exhibition catalogue, Washington, D.C., 1968, p. 37)

According to Carol Troyen and Erica E. Hirschler, Sheeler also considered the present work a companion piece to Flower Forms (1917, Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, Illinois). Troyen and Hirschler explain, “Of similar size, the two pictures are the antithesis of each other: Flower Forms, with its dark, luminous color scheme and undulating curves, is rich and sensuous. [Interior], with its flat planes, angular rhythms, and thinly applied paint, is almost ascetic. Only the dark blue of the stairs recalls the deep colors of the other work. Yet, despite their visual dissimilarity, these two paintings share an aesthetic goal, one that became an integral part of Sheeler’s work: to bring a realistic image to the point of abstraction by emphasizing its innate design and by using arbitrary color.” (Charles Sheeler: Paintings and Drawings, exhibition catalogue, Boston, Massachusetts, 1987, p. 74)

As with this companion, and as one of Sheeler’s first “staircase” paintings, Interior nimbly hangs in the balance between representation and abstraction. Constance Rourke writes regarding the present work, “The color is strong—deep blues for the stairs, sienna, warm black, and white or cream: these are used abstractly; the blue of the stairs might be carpeting, but it rises in an unbroken abstract area. The window frame, the stair rail, its spindles, belong to both realism and to abstraction: they are revealed by line yet they are set within three dimensions: the whole keeps the solidarity of direct representation.” (Charles Sheeler: Artist in the American Tradition, New York, 1938, p. 67) Carol Troyen also notes regarding Interior, “A brittle tension exists between line and form, surface and depth. The window at left becomes an abstraction as well, for Sheeler left its exact form uncertain. Light streams in, but the dark shadows it creates relate primarily to the abstract design rather than to natural effects.” (Charles Sheeler: Paintings and Drawings, p. 74)

Having first achieved success as a photographer, it was natural that throughout his career Sheeler chose functional subjects and depicted them with sharply defined forms, capturing and abstracting existent patterns in his paintings as only a photographer could. Troyen writes, “Sheeler’s paintings, with their photographic underpinnings to reflect ‘nature seen from the eyes outward’ comprise nothing less than a fifty-year exploration of his understanding of reality. At the same time, they are a nostalgic attempt to bring the past forward into the present. That such an intellectually ambitious program could be visually satisfying in so many different media is a tribute to the romantic soul behind the disciplined hand that crafted them.” (Charles Sheeler: Paintings and Drawings, p. 74)

More from Modern American Masterworks from the Ted Shen Collection

View All
View All