Born on July 16, 1883 in Philadelphia, Charles Sheeler is known as both a painter and photographer. He trained at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1903 under William Merrit Chase and Thomas P. Anshutz. Sheeler and his peer Morton Schamberg visited London, Holland and Spain during summers to study the bravura manner of the Baroque masters. Upon graduating in 1906 the two artists shared a studio in Philadelphia, and made brief trips to see art exhibits in New York.
In 1909 Sheeler traveled to Paris where he encountered the work of Cézanne, Matisse and other modernists. This exposure inspired a shift in his work toward the intense palette of the Fauves. In addition to this shift, upon returning to Philadelphia Sheeler also took up photography. His explorations in this medium would later inform the streamlined composition and industrial subjects of his widely recognized precisionist paintings.
Fellow artist Arthur B. Davies invited Sheeler to submit six works to the 1913 Armory Show – an event that marked a turning point in his career. The historic show featured works by artists such as Cézanne, Braque, and Picasso that left a permanent impression on Sheeler. A few years later he participated in the 1916 Forum Exhibition, showing works that borrowed the splintered planes of Cubism and replaced his patchy brushwork with fine hatch strokes in earth tones. In 1917 he executed his barn series and briefly ventured into formal abstractions, but it was his personal brand of Precisionism that marked Sheeler a stylistic leader. He created sparse compositions, simplifying masses and flattening space in his Americana landscapes. His use of arbitrary color, smooth surface, and functional line attest to his efforts to make art as reductive as possible, yet he simultaneously managed to endow elegance to the mundane.
In 1915 Sheeler sent samples of his work to Alfred Stieglitz and the two began a correspondence. Through Stieglitz he made the acquaintance of influential artist, writer,
and gallery owner Marius de Zayas who showed his work at the Modern Gallery. Sheeler served as their staff photographer from 1917 to 1920. He also began to frequent the Walter Arensberg salon in New York where he met Marcel Duchamp and Francis Icaria. This milieu provided him ample opportunity to observe avant-garde trends in American and European art. He credited his sensitive representation of American technology in his art of the 1920s to Duchamp, whose aesthetic principles he realized in his own images. The Arensbergs would prove reliable and generous patrons, acquiring many of Sheeler’s works.
After Schamberg's death in 1919, Sheeler relocated to New York and in 1922 had a solo show at Charles Daniel's gallery. By 1923 he was involved at the Whitney Studio Club as gallery photographer, part-time arts reviewer, and exhibitor (he was given a solo exhibition there in 1924). Edward Steichen later recruited him as staff photographer for Condé Nast publications, but he withdrew after four years and in 1931 became affiliated with Edith Halpert at the Downtown Gallery.
The Museum of Modern Art sponsored a retrospective of Sheeler’s work in 1939, and he continued to exhibit his work frequently until his death on May 7, l965. He is represented in many public collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Brooklyn Museum, New York; Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio; Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven; and Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia.
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