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Details
Charles Sheeler (1883-1965)
Tulips
signed 'Sheeler' (lower right)--signed again and inscribed with title (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
30 x 20 in. (76.2 x 50.8 cm.)
Painted circa 1925-26.
Provenance
The artist.
Richard Kyle, nephew of the above, gift from the above, 1930.
James Maroney, New York.
Acquired by the present owner from the above, circa 1981.
Literature
C. Troyen, E.E. Hirshler, Charles Sheeler: Paintings and Drawings, exhibition catalogue, Boston, Massachusetts, 1987, pp. 106-07, no. 30, illustrated (as Red Tulips).
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, The Private Eye: Selected Works from Collections of Friends of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, exhibition catalogue, Houston, Texas, 1989, n.p., (as Red Tulips).
K. Lucic, Charles Sheeler in Doylestown: American Modernism and the Pennsylvania Tradition, exhibition catalogue, Allentown, Pennsylvania, 1997, p. 91, no. 44, illustrated (as Red Tulips).
Exhibited
Boston, Massachusetts, Museum of Fine Arts, and elsewhere, Charles Sheeler: Paintings and Drawings, October 13, 1987-January 3, 1988, no. 30 (as Red Tulips).
Houston, Texas, Museum of Fine Arts, The Private Eye: Selected Works from Collections of Friends of the Museum of Fine Arts, June 11-August 18, 1989 (as Red Tulips).
Allentown, Pennsylvania, Allentown Art Museum, and elsewhere, Charles Sheeler in Doylestown, American Modernism and the Pennsylvania Tradition, April 6-June 22, 1997, no. 44 (as Red Tulips).

Lot Essay

Tulips is part of a small group of graceful still lifes from the 1920s in which Charles Sheeler focuses on the contrast of natural and geometric forms, a theme he explored throughout his career in various mediums and subject matter.

The genre of still life was particularly appealing to Sheeler as he could leave the elements--which were often chosen from his collection of American decorative arts--set up for long periods of time and maintain a consistent light source through the use of photographic flood lights. Carol Troyen and Erica E. Hirshler write of this body of work, "The remarkable series of still lifes Sheeler produced in the mid-1920s were constructed from deceptively simple means. He generally used a traditional formula: fruits or flowers arranged on a tabletop, supplemented by simple articles of furniture, glassware and pottery. He painted the same forms repeatedly...The objects Sheeler painted again and again in the 1920s were consistently plain--the flowers were never exotic species, the glassware and furnishings were distinguished by their proportions rather than by the surface embellishments--and he rendered them in an understated, self-effacing way. (Charles Sheeler: Paintings and Drawings, Boston, Massachusetts, 1987, p. 106)

The present work is considered to be among Sheeler's most successful compositions within his series of still life paintings. Troyen and Hirshler comment, "Red[sic] Tulips is one of Sheeler's most elegant still lifes, with pleasing contrasts between crisp, sensuous outlines and softly painted, opalescent passages. Thinly brushed in delicate color...and with a slightly dry surface, the painting reveals both Sheeler's sensuality and his restraint. But in contrast to the satisfying elegance of Sheeler's technique, his simple arrangement of flowers on a table is vaguely disquieting. Although blossoms are arrayed in harmonious symmetry across the picture's surface, they nonetheless wind and sway on their elongated stems, bobbing out toward the viewer and twisting back into the shallow space in a kind of contrapuntal rhythm. The apparently perfect, restful compositional balance Sheeler achieved between the vase, the tabletop, and the goblet is undermined by the fact that the tabletop is pushed noticeably off-center and is tilted up, pressing the glassware forward." (Charles Sheeler: Paintings and Drawings, p. 106)

Tulips manifests Sheeler's interest in the challenge of creating compelling works with everyday objects. The result is an innovative and modern rendition of a traditional genre, and a tour-de-force within Sheeler's body of still life paintings.

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