Charles Sheeler

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Charles Sheeler
Charles Sheeler standing next to a window. c. 1910.
Born(1883-07-16)July 16, 1883
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US
DiedMay 7, 1965(1965-05-07) (aged 81)
Known forModern art, Photography
MovementPrecisionism, American Modernism

Charles Sheeler (July 16, 1883 – May 7, 1965) was an American artist known for his Precisionist paintings, commercial photography, and the avant-garde film, Manhatta, which he made in collaboration with Paul Strand. Sheeler is recognized as one of the early adopters of modernism in American art.

Early life and career[edit]

Charles Rettew Sheeler Jr. was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He attended the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art from 1900 to 1903, and then the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where he studied under William Merritt Chase. He found early success as a painter and exhibited at the Macbeth Gallery in 1908.[1] Most of his education was in drawing and other applied arts. He went to Italy with other students, where he was intrigued by the Italian painters of the Middle Ages, such as Giotto and Piero della Francesca. After a trip to Paris in 1909, Sheeler was inspired by works of Cubist artists like Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.[2] Returning to the United States, Sheeler felt that he would not be able to make a living as a modernist painter, so he took up commercial photography, focusing on architectural subjects.[citation needed] Sheeler was a self-taught photographer, learning his trade on a five dollar Brownie. [citation needed]

Early in his career, he was greatly impacted by the death of his close friend Morton Livingston Schamberg during the influenza epidemic of 1918.[3] Schamberg's painting had focused heavily on machinery and technology,[4] a theme that featured prominently in Sheeler's own work.

Sheeler owned a farmhouse in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, about 39 miles outside Philadelphia, which he shared with Schamberg until the latter's death.[citation needed] He was so fond of the home's 19th century stove that he called it his "companion" and made it a subject of his photographs. The farmhouse itself serves a prominent role in many of his photographs, which include shots of the bedroom, kitchen, and stairway. At one point he was quoted as calling it his "cloister." [citation needed] His work was also part of the painting event in the art competition at the 1932 Summer Olympics.[5]

On April 2, 1939, Sheeler married Musya Metas Sokolova, his second wife, six years after the death in 1933 of first wife Katharine Baird Shaffer (married April 7, 1921).[citation needed] In 1942, Sheeler joined the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a senior research fellow in photography, worked on a project in Connecticut with the photographer Edward Weston, and moved with Musya to Irvington-on-Hudson, some twenty miles north of New York. Sheeler worked for the Metropolitan Museum's Department of Publications from 1942 to 1945, photographing artworks and historical objects.[6]

Sheeler painted in a Precisionist style that complemented his photography and has been described as "quasi-photographic".[7]


In 1920, Sheeler invited photographer Paul Strand to collaborate on a "portrait" of Manhattan in film. The resulting 35mm nine-minute series of vignettes, called Manhatta after Walt Whitman's poem, Mannahatta, was the first avant-garde film created in America.[8]

Work with General Motors and Ford Motor Company[edit]

His work is featured at the General Motors Technical Center in Warren Michigan.[9] He was hired by the Ford Motor Company to photograph and make paintings of their factories.[when?][citation needed]

Photography and film work[edit]

Manhatta, a portrait of New York City by Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand.

Films created by Charles Sheeler[edit]

Photographic works[edit]

Selected paintings[edit]

Early works[edit]

Still Life (1925), one of Sheeler's earlier works, and one of several of his still life paintings
Connecticut Barns (1934), created by Sheeler for the Public Works of Art Project[10]

Power series[edit]

In 1940, Fortune Magazine published a series of six paintings commissioned of Sheeler. To prepare for the series, Sheeler spent a year traveling and taking photographs. Fortune editors aimed to “reflect life through forms … [that] trace the firm pattern of the human mind,” and Sheeler chose six subjects to fulfill this theme: a water wheel (Primitive Power), a steam turbine (Steam Turbine), the railroad (Rolling Power), a hydroelectric turbine (Suspended Power), an airplane (Yankee Clipper) and a dam (Conversation: Sky and Earth) [1].

Later works[edit]

The monument of Charles Sheeler (and Musya) in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery






^ "Power: A portfolio by Charles Sheeler", Fortune magazine (December 1940) Time Inc., Volume XXII, Number 6


  1. ^ Borland, Jennifer. Finding Aid to the Charles Sheeler Papers, circa 1840s-1966, bulk 1923-1965. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
  2. ^ Murphy, Jessica (2000). ""Charles Sheeler (1883–1965)"". In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  3. ^ Grace Glueck review of Morton Schamberg, NY Times, 1982 Retrieved August 11, 2010
  4. ^ Pohald, Mark (October 2007). "Charles Sheeler: Across The Media". Exhibit Review. Chicago.Art Institute.
  5. ^ "Charles Sheeler Jr". Olympedia. Retrieved August 6, 2020.
  6. ^ Warren, Lynne, ed. (2006), Encyclopedia of twentieth-century photography, New York Routledge, p. 1418, ISBN 978-0-203-94338-0
  7. ^ [Styles, schools and movements, published by Thames & Hudson 2002 Amy Dempsey]
  8. ^ "Paul Strand, Charles Sheeler. Manhatta. 1921". Retrieved June 18, 2022.
  9. ^ "General Motors Technical Center". Society of Architectural Historians. 23 July 2018.
  10. ^ Conroy, Sarah Booth (August 10, 1983). "GSA Finds Lost Sheeler Canvas". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 8, 2022.
  11. ^ a b c d e Roberts, Norma J., ed. (1988), The American Collections, Columbus Museum of Art, p. 198, ISBN 0-8109-1811-0.
  12. ^ "NGA – Charles Sheeler: Across Media (5/2006)". National Gallery of Art. Archived from the original on May 9, 2011. Retrieved September 19, 2011.
  13. ^ "The Photography of Charles Sheeler". Metropolitan Museum of Art. Archived from the original on August 7, 2011. Retrieved September 19, 2011.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]