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Modern American Masterworks from the Ted Shen Collection

Home, Sweet Home

Home, Sweet Home
signed and dated 'Sheeler/1931' (lower right)
mixed media on paper
12 x 9 1/4 in. (30.5 x 23.5 cm.)
Executed in 1931.
The Downtown Gallery, New York.
Dorothy Miller and Holger Cahill, New York, acquired from the above, 1938.
Dorothy Miller, by descent, 1960.
The Downtown Gallery, New York.
Nathaly Baum, Washington, D.C., acquired from the above.
Patricia Baum Vanderbes, New York, daughter of the above, by descent.
Private collection, California.
James Reinish & Associates, Inc., New York.
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 2012.
C. Rourke, Charles Sheeler: Artist in the American Tradition, New York, 1938, p. 166.
L. Dochterman, The Stylistic Development of the Work of Charles Sheeler, Ph.D dissertation, University of Michigan, 1963, p. 321, illustrated.
J. Baker, Henry Lee McFee and Formalist Realism in American Still Life, 1923-1936, exhibition catalogue, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, 1987, pp. 100-01, fig. 131, illustrated.
Detroit, Michigan, Society of Arts and Crafts, An Exhibition of Paintings by Charles Burchfield and Charles Sheeler, January 16-February 2, 1935.
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Charles Sheeler: Paintings, Drawings, Photographs, October 1939, p. 51, no. 87.

Brought to you by

Tylee Abbott
Tylee Abbott Vice President, Head of American Art

Lot Essay

Home, Sweet Home relates to one of Charles Sheeler’s most iconic oil paintings of the same title (1931, Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan). Each work depicts the artist’s home in South Salem, New York and features an arrangement of historical American objects from a variety of time periods and communities: a Shaker bench and table, rag rugs, a modern furnace at upper right, and a circa 1800 ladder back chair likely from the Delaware Valley, Pennsylvania. In addition to an obvious reference to Sheeler’s residence, the title of the present work also relates to the popular 19th century Victorian parlor song, “Home, Sweet Home.” In depicting all American-made objects, most of which were not considered prized possessions in 1931, Sheeler continues in a modernist idiom of somewhat ironic titles.

One of his most celebrated images, Home, Sweet Home epitomizes Sheeler’s interest in combining the modern and historical to create a unique early 20th century object. This group of works became known as his Americana series, and major paintings include American Interior (1934, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut), Americana (1931, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) and Home, Sweet Home.

Wanda Corn has used the related oil painting to explore Sheeler’s involvement as a “founding father” in the usable past project of the early 20th century—a task the artist explored himself via collecting American Folk Art and modernist depictions of the interiors and exteriors of rural America. Comprised of a loose collective of scholars, dealers, critics and artists, the usable past project claimed an ancestral heritage that was both free from European tradition and fit the country’s international reputation as a young nation. Modernists found common ground with the straightforward, unadorned style, visibly absent of academic training, but imbued with a sense of sincerity. Corn writes, “In Home, Sweet Home, then, the artist self-consciously locates himself in a family tree with selected craftsmen and craftswomen of the past. He claims a lineage that goes back to the maker of an American ladder-back chair of 1800. Giving his contemporary style a craft ancestry was a new way of thinking about American machine-age aesthetics. Sheeler made the past, or representations of it, safe for modernists.” (“Home, Sweet Home,” The Great American Thing: Modern Art and National Identity, 1915-1935, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California, 1999, p. 308)

The previous owners of the present work, Dorothy Miller and Holger Cahill, were important figures in American Modernism in the 20th Century. Miller was the first professionally trained curator at the Museum of Modern Art. Cahill was a writer and curator who mounted the first major exhibition of American Folk Art at the Newark Museum in 1930.

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