Ralston Crawford (1906-1978)
Ralston Crawford (1906-1978)

Coal Elevators

Details
Ralston Crawford (1906-1978)
Coal Elevators
signed 'Ralston Crawford' (lower right)--signed again, dated '1934' and inscribed with title (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
20 x 16 in. (50.8 x 40.6 cm.)
Provenance
The artist.
Elizabeth Allen, acquired from the above, circa 1940.
By descent to the present owner.
Literature
B. Haskell, Ralston Crawford, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1985, pp. 28, 31, no. 25, illustrated.
Exhibited
San Francisco, California, De Young Memorial Art Museum, n.d.
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Ralston Crawford, October 3, 1985-February 2, 1986, no. 25.

Lot Essay

After studying art at several institutions, including the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Ralston Crawford was initially influenced by the bold use of line and color employed by modern European masters such as Cézanne and Matisse. Crawford, however, quickly aligned himself with the Precisionist movement of the 1930s, and his subjects focused on abstracted, hard-edged industrial scenes most often associated with artists like Charles Sheeler and Stuart Davis.

Drawing from his immediate surroundings, in the 1930s Crawford was drawn to distinctly American localities including rural barns, small town train stations and factories. 1934 proved to be a significant year for Crawford, marking the artist's first one man show, as well the commencement of a long series of work devoted to the study of coal and grain elevators of which Coal Elevators is exemplary. "These pictures are structured out of large, unmodulated color shapes. While the subjects are clearly recognizable, Crawford established a sense of pure abstract structure by severely reducing details and orienting his forms parallel to the picture plane." (B. Haskell, Ralston Crawford, exhibition catalogue, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1986, p. 27)

Coal Elevators embodies this aesthetic of recognizable yet abstracted relationship of color, planes and form. As with many of Crawford's paintings from 1934 to 1935, the present work verifies "Crawford's concern for the solidification of forms into planes and cylinders...his penchant for sober monochromes and his technique of modulating brushy, closely valued hues within individual color areas so that each area appeared distinct." (Ralson Crawford, p. 27) The isolated structure, the starkness of the composition and modeling of forms add a forlorn stillness that permeates the scene, underscoring Crawford's fascination with Surrealist theory at the time. The elimination of detail and geometric architectural forms, Coal Elevators presages later works such as Buffalo Grain Elevators (1927, National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.) and Coal Elevators (1938, The Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis, Missouri) as well as rendering it a highly developed Precisionist masterwork in its own right.
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