Charles Sheeler (1883 - 1965)
Tree and Landscape, 1947
Tempera on paper on board
15 5/8 x 13 1/2 inches
Signed and dated at lower right: Sheeler - 1947
American Modernist style frame
Musya Sheeler, the artist's widow, 1965
Sid Deutsch Gallery, New York, New York, 1981
The SBC Collection, Texas, 1985 to present
In the early years of his artistic career, the Philadelphia native Charles Sheeler was a loyal student of William Merritt Chase. He studied with the noted Impressionist at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from 1903 to 1906, after three years at the School of Industrial Art, which was affiliated with the Pennsylvania (now Philadelphia) Museum. His style during this period was freely painted and brightly colored, often consisting of outdoor oil sketches made on site.
During the next several years, young Sheeler traveled to Europe at least three times, twice with Chase and once with close friend and fellow student, Morton L. Schamberg, from 1908 to 1909. During his trip to London, Paris, and Italy with Schamberg, Sheeler became interested in Modernism, although his work continued to show the influence of Chase for several years to come.
The artist participated in the 1913 Armory Show, which further exposed him to European Modernism and the works of Cézanne, Picasso, and Braque. Sheeler became a professional photographer around the same time, focusing on abstract composition of industrial and architectural elements. This fascination was reflected in his mature style, which developed around 1917, and focused on more geometric forms, painted with a draftsman-like approach preferred by the newly emerging Precisionists.
In 1918, Sheeler left Philadelphia and his farm in rural Pennsylvania for New York, turning to skyscrapers and scenes of urban life for the simplicity of structure he had found in Bucks County barns. He continued to complete major photographic commissions during the 1920s, with his most important assignment, to photograph the Ford Motor Company's new River Rouge plant in Michigan in 1927. The income earned from photography commissions allowed him the resources to continue painting and gave him a new perspective or a preliminary image for the subjects he explored.
Sheeler had a strong interest in the crisp lines, modern appeal, and functional superiority of Shaker design. Not only did he feature Shaker imagery in his paintings and photographs, but he also assembled a large collection of Shaker art during the 1920s and 30s. These pieces complemented the rest of his personal collection, which consisted of folk paintings and colonial furnishings and perpetuated his interest in finding the humble truth in an object. Sheeler felt the same attraction to Shaker furniture that he did to factories or skyscrapers, valuing them all for their simple unadorned craftsmanship, geometric shapes, and presence.
Sheeler’s work found consistent success and enduring public appeal during his lifetime, in part due to the efforts of Edith Halpert at the Downtown Gallery. Halpert introduced Sheeler to a new group of patrons, gave the artist several one-man shows, persuaded museums to include his works in exhibitions devoted to Modern art, and convinced institutions around the country to add Sheeler’s work to their public collections. The artists championed by Halpert were pioneers of American Modernism and were often lauded for their “Americanness.”
This painting will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the works of Charles Sheeler by Carol Troyen, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
 Carol Troyen, Charles Sheeler: Paintings and Drawings (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1987), p. 3
 Martin Friedman, Oral History Interview with Charles Sheeler, Smithsonian Archives of American Art, June 18, 1959