View of New York
Charles Sheeler (American, 1883–1965)
121.92 x 92.39 cm (48 x 36 3/8 in.)
Medium or Technique
Oil on canvas
Not On View
Charles Sheeler contributed to early modernism as both a painter and a photographer. A Philadelphia native, he trained at the School of Industrial Art and then went to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he studied with the Impressionist William Merritt Chase [49.1790]. His earliest paintings show the influence of his teacher’s style, but a 1908 trip to Paris and an encounter with the paintings of Paul Cézanne [http://www.mfa.org/search/collections?keyword=Paul+C%C3%A9zanne&objecttype=54] sent his work in a different direction. Sheeler started to explore form and structure in his paintings, rather than the fleeting effects of light on transitory subjects. In 1911 he began to correspond with photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz [http://www.mfa.org/search/collections?keyword=packageid:26668], also an admirer of Cézanne, although Stieglitz never exhibited Sheeler’s work. To support himself, Sheeler took up photography in 1912. He made images for commercial use, enjoying the financial security provided by producing photographs for magazine publishers and advertising firms. Sheeler also garnered critical acclaim for his photographs as works of art, and he began to experiment with film.
At the same time, Sheeler was still struggling to gain respect as a painter. His dealer, aware of the secondary status that photography held with many collectors and critics, recommended that he restrict himself to the brush. With no guarantees of the same kind of success in painting that he had realized with photography, Sheeler embarked on the next phase of his career with ambivalence.
View of New York was executed the year that Sheeler made the difficult decision to set aside photography. The painting’s title is ironic, for it does not depict a cityscape at all but shows the interior of the artist’s studio in New York. Through the open window, Sheeler painted a cloudy sky instead of the skyscrapers and crowded streets that had occupied an earlier generation. The balanced, almost geometric structure of the composition and the limited palette of grays, pale blues, and maroon underscore the stillness of the interior, as do the objects pictured: the empty chair, the unlit lamp, and a covered and unused camera. The enigmatic, almost funereal mood of this workspace alludes to Sheeler’s own ambivalence. He called the image “the most severe picture I ever painted,” but it was also one of his most personal. 
1. Charles Sheeler, quoted in Constance Rourke, Charles Sheeler: Artist in the American Tradition (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1938), 156.
This text was adapted from Elliot Bostwick Davis et al., American Painting [http://www.mfashop.com/9020398034.html], MFA Highlights (Boston: MFA Publications, 2003).
Lower left: Sheeler-1931.; Reverse: View of New York-1931/Charles Sheeler
1931, the artist; by 1934, with The Downtown Gallery, New York; 1935, sold by the Downtown Gallery to the MFA for $2,200. (Accession Date: March 7, 1935)
The Hayden Collection—Charles Henry Hayden Fund