National Gallery of Art Custom Prints

Charles Sheeler

Classic Landscape, 1931

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About the Artwork

Charles Sheeler was a master of both painting and photography, and his work in one medium influenced and shaped his work in the other. In 1927, he was commissioned to photograph the Ford Motor Company's new River Rouge Plant near Detroit. Then the world's largest industrial complex, employing more than 75,000 workers, the plant produced Ford's Model A, successor to the famed Model T. Sheeler's photographs were used for the company's advertising, but he found himself greatly inspired by the subject, which he declared "incomparably the most thrilling I have had to work with."

Classic Landscape depicts an area of the plant where cement was made from by-products of the car manufacturing process. The silos in the middle distance stored the cement until it could be shipped for sale. Sheeler's choice of this relatively anonymous scene, rather than one connected with the production of automobiles, suggests that his interest lay in making a generalized portrait of the landscape of industry. That, in part, may explain his use in the painting's title of the word "classic," with its connotations of typical or standard. But "classic" also evokes the culture of ancient Greece and Rome, and Sheeler certainly implies that this modern American scene can be compared to the high achievements of the classical past. One might well be reminded of classical architecture by the temple-like form of the silos and the pediment-like roofs of the nearby buildings, but the matter clearly went beyond superficial resemblance. Like others of his day, Sheeler admired architecture that was functional and straightforward, with shape and plan determined by specifics of use rather than by conventions of style and decoration. For the great French architect Le Corbusier, whose influential Towards a New Architecture Sheeler probably read around the same time he was photographing the Rouge plant, the timeless principles of good design embodied by ancient architecture were indeed still at work. The iconic power and special importance of Classic Landscape were recognized from the time of its first public exhibition in New York in 1931. Through the years, it has become one of the most widely exhibited and best-known works of its era, and today it stands as a key masterwork of 20th-century American art.

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National Gallery of Art Custom Prints is your exclusive source for custom reproductions authorized and available for purchase directly from the National Gallery of Art. All items that are offered are produced using gallery-quality materials and the color is managed in a manner that produces a reproduction as true to the original as modern technology will allow.
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