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Boat and Grain Elevator

Crawford, R.
Boat and Grain Elevator
signed 'Crawford' (lower center)
oil on canvas
30 x 36 in. (76.2 x 91.4 cm.)
Painted in 1942.
The artist.
Private collection, by descent from the above.
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., New York, sold by the above.
Charles K. Williams II, Pennsylvania, acquired from the above, 1998.
James Reinish & Associates, Inc., New York.
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
R.B. Freeman, Ralston Crawford, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, 1953, p. 45, no. 42.8.
W.C. Agee, Ralston Crawford, Pasadena, California, 1983, pp. 9, pl. 21, illustrated (as Boat and Grain Elevators).
Flint, Michigan, Flint Institute of Arts, The Works of Ralston Crawford, 1942, no. 10.
New York, The Downtown Gallery, Ralston Crawford: In Peace and in War, January 4-29, 1944, no. 7.
Honolulu, Hawaii, Honolulu Academy of Arts, Ralston Crawford: Paintings, Photographs, Photograms, 1947, no. 21.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Milwaukee Art Center, Ralston Crawford, February 6-March 9, 1958, p. 22, no. 8.
Cincinnati, Ohio, The Contemporary Arts Center, Ralston Crawford Retrospective Exhibition, February 19-March 25, 1971, p. 36.
New York, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., Ralston Crawford and the Sea, March 9-April 20, 1991, pp. 27, 69, no. 26, illustrated (as Boat and Grain Elevators).
New York, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., Streamlined: The Precisionist Impulse in American Art, November 22, 1995-January 6, 1996, pp. 4, 6, 33, no. 15, illustrated (as Boat and Grain Elevators).
New York, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., Ralston Crawford's America, September 28-November 9, 1996, no. 20.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Adventures in Modern Art: The Charles K. Williams II Collection, July 12-September 13, 2009, pp. 102-104, 320, pl. 29, illustrated (as Boat and Grain Elevators).

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Lot Essay

Born in Ontario, Canada, Ralston Crawford studied art at several institutions, including the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, where he encountered the Precisionist art of Charles Sheeler and Charles Demuth. Their depictions of modern America utterly fascinated Crawford, inspiring him to begin working in a similar mode. Striking in both scale and color, Crawford’s Boat and Grain Elevator explores classic Precisionist subject matter and style with the increasingly abstract approach that would shape the artist’s subsequent oeuvre.

While he began painting more traditional landscapes, “Crawford ultimately found beauty in the industrial landscape, especially shipyards, grain elevators, bridges, highways, tanks, and the like. In about 1934-35 he begun to treat those subjects as large, simplified shapes, which he painted as sharp-edged planes of broad, smooth areas of color.” (I.H. Shoemaker, Adventures in Modern Art: The Charles K. Williams II Collection, exhibition catalogue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 2009, p. 102) Indeed, works such as Boat and Grain Elevator propelled Crawford’s reputation as a second-generation Precisionist painter in the late 1930s and early 40s.

Boat and Grain Elevator is characterized by strikingly minimal, flattened planes of color, yet each element is discernable from the next. In the present work, “Crawford used a receding perspective construction, but instead of sharp recession from foreground to background, many shapes, curves, and angles intrude and interrupt.” (Adventures in Modern Art, p. 104) This geometric cacophony is heightened by the striking contrast of the golden yellow water against the cooler tones of the blue sky and grey machinery. According to William C. Agee, the present work illustrates a change in Crawford’s use of color in that it “became far less naturalistic and began to assume a nonassociative character in its nascent stage of becoming an independent expressive force.” (Ralston Crawford, Pasadena, California, 1983, p. 9)

A preparatory drawing in the collection of the Colby Museum of Art, Waterville, Maine, emphasizes Crawford’s pronounced shift toward abstraction throughout his artistic process for the present work alone. The study exhibits detailed modeling and shading, which Crawford abandons in the finished composition, opting for purist, planar forms to illustrate the industrial environment.

Boat and Grain Elevator not only demonstrates the best of Crawford’s artistic reimagination of his surroundings, but also marks a significant turning point in his approach to painting. Straying from an increasingly realist mode of representation, the simplified forms and atypical use of color in the present work provide insight into his early considerations of abstraction. An abstracted scene of the industrial world, Boat and Grain Elevator defines Crawford as a decidedly modern painter.

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