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Charles Sheeler (1883-1965)

Improvisation on a Mill Town

Charles Sheeler (1883-1965) Improvisation on a Mill Town signed and dated 'Sheeler 1949' (lower right)--signed and dated again on a piece of the original stretcher attached to the reverse oil on canvas laid down on board 29 x 24 in. (73.7 x 61 cm.)
The artist.
The Downtown Gallery, New York, circa 1956.
Mr. and Mrs. Michael Watter, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Sale: Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., American Paintings, Drawings, Sculpture, Folk Art: The Collection of Dr. and Mrs. Watter, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, lot 49.
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
Art Digest, vol. 23, no. 9, February 1, 1949, p. 13, illustrated
M. Friedman, Charles Sheeler, New York, 1970
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Carnegie Institute, Paintings in the United States, 1949, October 13-November 1949
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, American Paintings Today, December 1950-February 1951
Washington, DC, National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution,
San Francisco, California, San Francisco Museum of Art, United Nations,
Fort Worth, Texas, Fort Worth Art Museum, Twentieth Century Art from Fort Worth Dallas Collections, September-October 1974
Waco, Texas, The Art Center, At the Time of the House, Inaugural Exhibition, April-May 1976, no. 37, illustrated
Sale Room Notice
Please note the frame for this lot is a replica of a silver American frame, c. 1930's-1940's, on loan from Eli Wilner & Co., Inc. This frame is available for purchase. Please inquire within the department.

Lot Essay

A master of Precisionism, Charles Sheeler combined a thoroughly modern approach to painting with a keen understanding of traditional American themes and sensibilities. Martin Friedman writes, "Even after Sheeler's exposure to the radical styles of early twentieth-century French art, he saw America through the eyes of a villager. A singular detachment pervades his art because he was the anonymous observer who managed to remain outside the mundane subjects he selected and reordered. Underlying this seemingly dispassionate attitude was an idealism about America's history and destiny. Indeed, many critics have regarded him as an artist whose work epitomizes a clear-eyed, native, visual tradition; he has been considered a pragmatic Yankee whose no-nonsense, efficient approach to picturemaking reflects America's historic virtues. He seemed to fit the stereotype. "Sheeler is truly an American with American ancestors behind him," wrote Forbes Watson. (Charles Sheeler, Paintings, Drawings, Photographs, New York, 1975, p. 209)

Improvisaton on a Mill Town is a classic example of Sheeler's unique fusion of art, industry and the Modern American landscape. In the painting the artist has abstracted the industrial landscape into a heroic vision of color, form and geometry. A bold smokestack rises into the center of a clear blue sky. Both organic and man-made forms stretch across the foreground, suggesting the confluence with and distinction between the machine and the natural world. Carol Troyen writes, "The best of Sheeler's work, early and late, is about the conflation of shadow and substance, of the remembered and freshly seen, and how a new vision triggers treasured memories. 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, Boston, 1987, p. 43)


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