Influences

“All the arts we revere come out of the main trunk. An underlying current goes through all the way to Renaissance, Egyptian, Chinese, back to cave painting.”

—Charles Sheeler

Education

Mortimer Menpes, William M. Chase, and James McNeill Whistler standing together outdoors. c 1880–1900. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

William Merritt Chase (1849–1916)
William Merritt Chase, an American artist known for his impressionist style, was Sheeler’s mentor during his time at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. Chase taught many great artists of the era, including Georgia O’Keeffe, Charles Demuth, and Edward Hopper. Chase’s academic legacy lives on through the Parsons School of Design in New York City, originally called The Chase School, which he established in 1896. Sheeler joined Chase in 1902 and 1903 on a trip to Europe, where he was introduced to the work of Diego Velasquez, El Greco, and Francisco Goya.

European Travels

In the early 1900s, Sheeler traveled through Europe, surveying the various artistic styles of the region. It proved to be a formative experience in his development as an artist, when he pulled away from traditional Impressionist training and began experimenting with the precisionist style.

“When I came back, I couldn’t resume where I had left off. I had to bail out, as I’ve called it before, for about ten years before I really got started in a new direction. It was no longer possible just to set up a model, either literally a model or a landscape, and go out and paint a landscape. I had to plan it ahead of time as to what ingredients it would have in it that would be to my satisfaction as near as I could arrive at them.”

—Charles Sheeler

Giotto di Bondone (1266–1337)
Giotto di Bondone was an Italian painter and architect generally considered as one of the most influential artists of the Renaissance. Mentored by the great Cimabue, creator of mosaics, Giotto decorated chapels in Assisi, Rome, and Florence for churches and wealthy patrons. His most notable pieces are The Navicella mosaic and the Polittico Stefaneschi triptych in the Old Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Giotto expressed honest depictions of humanism and his surroundings in the various frescoes and panels he painted.

Masaccio (1401–1428)
Masaccio was a great Italian painter of the Italian Renaissance during the Quattrocento period. Strongly influenced by Giotto, Masaccio’s work represented a direct, realistic view of the human form and its environment. Some of his more distinguished pieces are the multi-paneled altarpiece The Holy Trinity for the Church of Santa Maria Novella and the San Giovenale triptych in the Roman Pieve of San Pietro di Cascia. Despite his short career, his work was considered one of the first to use linear perspective and realism.

Piero della Francesca (1416/17–1492)
Piero della Francesca was an Italian Renaissance painter known for his use of geometric shape, bold lines, and dramatic light. One piece that exhibits Francesca’s structural style is The Flagellation of Christ, considered one of the most controversial paintings of the early Renaissance.

“Piero della Francesca didn’t just set up a canvas and look up at the ceiling and then, well, what shall I paint today? I mean he must have had his engineer plan for the picture before he put brush to canvas. And that was, as I say, it was my instance later on but that wasn’t to come for a long time.”

—Charles Sheeler

Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), The Bathers, c. 1890-1900. Lithograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

Paul Cézanne (1839–1906)
Paul Cézanne was a French Modernist painter known for employing clean, prismatic lines to evoking the fundamental nature of the world around him. “Everything in Nature is modeled after the sphere, the cone, and the cylinder. One must learn to paint from these simple figures.” His style inspired other French artists of that time and ultimately led to the creation of Cubism.

Pablo Ruiz y Picasso (1881–1973)
Pablo Picasso was one of the most prominent artists of the 20th century, expressing his art through painting, sculpture, poetry, and theater. Picasso was heavily influenced by Cézanne, calling him “my one and only master.” At the time Sheeler was visiting France, Picasso was just beginning to experiment with Cubism, an avant-garde art movement that analyzed objects, disassembled them, and reassembled its parts to evoke new perspectives.  His artistic perspective was eclectic, political, defining, and continues to influence artists today.

Georges Braque (1882–1963)
Georges Braque was a notable painter, collagist, and sculptor who co-founded Cubism with Picasso. Cubism eventually led Braque to develop a keen interest in collaging, inventing the papier collé technique which focused solely on paper layers. Collaging brought great dimension and a different perspective to the objects he rendered. Much like the work of Picasso and their mentor Cézanne, Braque’s work deconstructed the everyday object, presenting these objects in a balanced and straightforward manner.

“I didn’t understand them in the least, but they did carry the conviction that the artists knew what they were doing; and if I were interested enough, it was up to me to try and find out what they were doing.”

—Charles Sheeler, from an interview of conducted by Martin L. Friedman on June 18, 1959 for the Archives of American Art

Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), German and Viennese photography, March, 1906 and Detail: Picasso--Braque exhibition, January, 1915, c.1916, retrieved from the Library of Congress.

Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), German and Viennese photography, March, 1906 and Detail: Picasso–Braque exhibition, January, 1915, c.1916, retrieved from the Library of Congress.

New York Art Scene

The mid-1910s brought a shift of focus for Sheeler. Initially using photography as an income supplement while he painted, Sheeler soon found himself exploring photography as an additional channel of artistic expression. Frequent trips to New York further developed his aesthetic, influencing not just his style of photography but also how he approached the canvas.

“No drawing can give you the actuality to the extent that the photograph is, and I can pick out and make references for a form that I want to use with greater definition than I could by making a quick sketch from the subject, which would fill the considerable latitude from what I actually saw on location.”
—Charles Sheeler, from an interview of conducted by Martin L. Friedman on June 18, 1959 for the Archives of American Art
Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), The Steerage 1907, 1911. Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), The Steerage 1907, 1911. Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946)
Alfred Stieglitz was an American photographer and modern art promoter during the early 20th century known for his efforts to recognize photography as an acknowledged art form. Stieglitz was heavily influenced by European art, having lived in Germany for much of his formative years. He played a fundamental role in bringing modern European art to the New York art scene. He and photographer Edward Steichen created Gallery 291 which showcased artistic photography and modern European art. Stieglitz was deliberate in his craft, choosing composition, natural elements, and materials carefully. Sheeler met Stieglitz after the famed 1913 Armory Show. Stieglitz admired Sheeler’s Doylestown House photos and encouraged him to become more involved in the New York art scene, connecting him with collectors, dealers, and galleries across the city.

Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968)
Born in France, Marcel Duchamp was a naturalized American painter, sculptor, and writer considered one of the most important artists of the 20th century. His rejection of purely visual art and exploration of context influenced his unique style. Duchamp coined the term “readymade,” taking everyday objects out of context and presenting them as art. One of his most recognizable readymades is Fountain, a porcelain urinal, considered scandalous and questionable art piece at the time. Sheeler was familiarizing himself with the New York art scene when Duchamp immigrated to the city, readymades in tow.

“Marcel, of course, was in a class by himself.”… “Some of the fancy things that he used to make, that is, fancy in the sense of imagining, bore no relation to anything that anyone had ever seen before, individual parts, a ball of string and something else totally irrelevant combined with it in an arrangement.”
—Charles Sheeler from an interview of conducted by Martin L. Friedman on June 18, 1959 for the Archives of American Art

Constantin Brancusi (1876–1957)
Constantin Brancusi was a Romanian sculptor, painter, and photographer considered to be one of the leading artists in modern sculpture. Brancusi worked primarily in France, but his sculptures traveled. They were included in the 1913 Armory Show in New York, and Stieglitz presented the first solo show of Brancusi’s work at Gallery 291 in 1914. It was during one of these trips to the United States that Sheeler and he met. At this time, Sheeler was photographing interior spaces—often the art of notable collectors. Sheeler photographed a number of Brancusi works, capturing the simplicity and sophistication of the sculptures by evoking the same characteristics of the photographs themselves.

“[Brancusi’s work] has a power and a beauty of design and workmanship and texture, an austere beauty that makes it unique… His polished abstract marbles might be texts for an endless commentary on form.”
—Charles Sheeler
Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957), The Kiss, exhibited at the Armory Show of the Association of American Painters and Sculptures, New York. 1913. Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957), The Kiss, exhibited at the Armory Show of the Association of American Painters and Sculptures, New York. 1913. Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

Edward Steichen (1879-1973), Self-portrait, 1903. Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

Edward Steichen (1879–1973), Self-portrait, 1903. Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

Edward Steichen (1879–1973)
Edward Steichen was a notable photographer, painter, and curator during the 1920s and 1930s. During this time, Steichen worked as the director of photography for Condé Nast, producing celebrity and fashion photographs for Vogue and Vanity Fair. Steichen met Alfred Stieglitz while passing through New York in 1900 and the connection quickly turned into a thriving business partnership. Together, they opened Gallery 291, which exhibited artistic photography as well as modern European art. Sheeler met Steichen in the early 1920s and was lured by the photographer in 1926 to work for Condé Nast as well. Sheeler continued as a photographer for Condé Nast until 1931.

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