1926: Revisiting the Past

At the beginning of his tenure at Condé Nast Publications, Sheeler adapted and incorporated into his portraits the architectural spaces and geometric compositions that had informed his earlier body of work. In his photographs of Anne Pennington (nearby), Sheeler’s dramatic lighting and compositional design recalls his Doylestown House interiors. His portrait of Lenore Ulric (nearby) makes compositional reference to his painting Skyscrapers (1922) and photograph of the Park Row Building in New York, both of which had been previously published in Vanity Fair. And for his photograph of Dorothy Smart on the garden staircase at Samuel Untermeyer’s Yonkers estate, Greystone (nearby), Sheeler references the composition of his painting Stairway to the Studio (1924). Other photographs, such as the portrait of the French actress Renée Adorée, suggest that his magazine work may have directly influenced his architectural photography. Unlike Steichen, Sheeler rarely went out-of-doors for his work. The portraits for Vanity Fair were predominantly shot in the studio, while the fashion shoots for Vogue frequently utilized publisher Condé Montrose Nast’s own palatial apartment, designed by interior decorator Elsie de Wolfe, full of such props as screens, mirrors, and elegant antiques.

Charles Sheeler (1883-1965), Norma Shearer in a hat by Reboux, Vogue, April 15, 1926, gelatin silver print. (c) Condé Nast.

By late 1926, Sheeler had begun to perfect his technique, and a standard vocabulary begins to emerge that is very different from Steichen’s. Sheeler is not so much interested in revealing the character of his subjects, but rather approaches them as elements of a structured design—sculptural volumes set within highly architectural spaces.

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