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Charles Sheeler

Born: 1883, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America
Died: 1965, Dobbs Ferry, New York, United States of America

Bucks County Barn
1940

Oil on canvas
Image: 18 3/8 x 28 3/8 in. (46.7 x 72.1 cm)
Frame: 25 1/8 x 35 1/8 x 2 3/8 in. (63.8 x 89.2 x 6.0 cm)
Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1999.135
Signed: Lower right: Sheeler - 1940
Artist Name: []

Interpretation

Bucks County Barn reflects Charles Sheeler’s memories of the barns of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, which he admired for the pure, rectilinear geometry of their expansive planes and their rigorous and unpretentious functionality. Around 1917, Sheeler began painting, drawing, and photographing the barns in the area around Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where he worked on weekends between 1910 and 1926. Later in his career, he drew on these works for several images of the barns and their interiors, emphasizing fixed geometric structure in a complementary style characterized by detached precision and clarity verging on the abstract. Bucks County Barn is one of the most fully realized and seemingly conventional of these images, an almost disconcertingly perfect “portrait” of the red-and-white barn exactly centered in the composition in a generalized setting of pale green grass and blue, cloud-streaked sky. Sheeler rarely showed animate life in his art, but this work features two black-and-white cows glimpsed through a rail fence. The cows, like such details as the fence’s downed rails, the small open window at the center of the composition, and the battered condition of the overhanging roof on the right lend this image an authenticity and immediacy that contrast with what has been described as its classicism––its aura of frozen impersonality.

Sheeler’s training in industrial design and in documentary photography conditioned both his spare, hard-edged style and his choice of such utilitarian subjects as rural barns and vernacular furnishings, which he admired for their simple integrity and spare design. Through a matter-of-fact but inherently elegant realism, his images of these traditional, everyday subjects in various media present them as both timeless and thoroughly modern. In the era of the Great Depression, Sheeler’s pictorial realism and focus on rural, thoroughly native subjects corresponded with the concerns of the so-called American Scene movement, which exalted the American heartland in wholesome, accessible images. Through its preoccupation with the underlying geometric structure of the buildings, however, Bucks County Barn asserts Sheeler’s allegiance to cubism, the portrayal of the forms of everyday objects as series of their component planes and angles, by which he was strongly influenced early in his career. At the same time, the dream-like perfection of the image, the result of a technique so precise as to efface all signs of the artist’s presence or processes, demonstrates the technical link between Sheeler’s precisionism and the contemporary movement called magic realism, in which the faithful portrayal of exterior reality reveals its underlying spirit or magic. Grounded in the literal reality and physical integrity of the objects it presents, Bucks County Barn demonstrates Sheeler’s search for an individual vision that is emphatically American.

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Provenance

The artist
The Downtown Gallery, New York, New York
Mr. King Vidor, Beverly Hills, California
King W. Vidor Trust, Beverly Hills, California, 1982–85
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., New York, New York
Daniel J. Terra Collection, Chicago, Illinois, 1985
Terra Foundation for the Arts Collection, Chicago, Illinois, 1999

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Exhibition History

Opening Exhibition, The Downtown Gallery, New York, New York (organizer). Venue: The Downtown Gallery, New York, New York, October 1940 (as Bucks County Barns).

1940–1941 Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York (organizer). Venue: Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York, November 27, 1940–January 8, 1941, no. 142 (as Bucks County Barns). [exh. cat.]

Contemporary American Art Exhibition, The Society of the Four Arts, Palm Beach, Florida (organizer). Venue: The Society of the Four Arts, Palm Beach, Florida, February 16–March 9, 1941, no. 81. [exh. cat.]

Dealer's Show, The Downtown Gallery, New York, New York (organizer). Venue: The Downtown Gallery, New York, New York, July 15, 1941.

The Forty-Eighth Annual Exhibition of American Art, Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio (organizer). Venue: Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio, November 8–December 7, 1941, no. 121. [exh. cat.]

Schools of 20th-Century Painting, Modern Institute of Art, Beverly Hills, California (organizer). Venue: Modern Institute of Art, Beverly Hills, California, April 22–May, 20, 1948 (as Bucks County Barns). [exh. cat.]

Charles Sheeler-Arthur G. Dove Exhibition, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, Texas (organizer). Venue: Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, Texas, January 7–23, 1951, no. 38 (as Bucks County Barns). [exh. cat.]

Masterworks in American Art from the Daniel J. Terra Collection, Terra Museum of American Art, Evanston, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Evanston, Illinois, April 27–September 12, 1985.

Order in Space: Precisionist Works by Demuth and Sheeler, Terra Museum of American Art, Evanston, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Evanston, Illinois, November 15, 1985–January 12, 1986.

A Proud Heritage: Two Centuries of American Art, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, April 21–June 21, 1987. [exh. cat.]

Collection Cameo, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, August 1992.

Visions of a Nation: Exploring Identity through American Art, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, August 10, 1996–January 12, 1997.

Figures and Forms: Selections from the Terra Foundation for the Arts, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, May 9–July 9, 2000.

L'Amérique et les modernes, 1900–1950 (American Moderns, 1900–1950), Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France (organizer). Venue: Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France, July 25–October 31, 2000. [exh. cat.]

Selections from the Permanent Collection: Two Centuries of American Art, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, March 10–July 1, 2001.

American Moderns, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, July 14–October 7, 2001.

Mid-Century Modern: Selections from the Terra Foundation for the Arts, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, April 20–July 7, 2002.

American Classics, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, December 13, 2003–February 8, 2004.

A Narrative of American Art, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, February 13–October 31, 2004.

Expanded Galleries of American Art with Loans from the Terra Foundation for American Art Collection, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, April 15, 2005–September 2007.

Art in America: 300 Years of Innovation, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York, NY and Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, IL (organizers). Venues: National Museum of China, Beijing, China, February 9-April 5, 2007; Shanghai Museum, Shanghai, China, April 30-June 30, 2007; Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art, Shanghai, China, April 30-June 30, 2007. (Shanghai presentations ran concurrently); The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, Russia, July 23–September 9, 2007; Guggenheim Bilbao, Bilbao, Spain, October 15, 2007–April 27, 2008 (exhibited in Bilbao through January 13, 2008). [exh. cat.]

Galleries of American Art with Loans from the Terra Foundation for American Art Collection, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, June 2008–present.

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Published References

Downtown Gallery Papers. Archives of American Art. Roll ND40: text frames 273, 395, 398; ill., frame 272; Roll ND41: text, frame 114. Text (checklist, as Bucks County Barns).

Johnson, D. Rhodes. "The Arts–Here and There; It is 'The Something More' in Accurate Camera-Like Painting of Scene, Still Life, or Portrait that Indicates Art, Old and New." Jersey Journal 74, no. 161 (November 8, 1940): 8. Text p. 8 (as Bucks County Barns).

1940–41 Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Painters. (exh. cat., Whitney Museum of Art). New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1941. Text, cat. no. 142 (checklist, as Bucks County Barns).

Genauer, Emily. "American Artists in Whitney Annual." New York World-Telegram 73, no. 129 (November 30, 1940): sect. 2, cols. 1–2, p. 24. Text p. 24 (as Bucks County Barns).

Contemporary American Art Exhibition. (exh. cat., Society for the Four Arts). Palm Beach, Florida: Society of the Four Arts, 1941. Text, cat. no. 81 (checklist).

McBride, Henry. “Arts for Florida.” The Sun (February 16, 1941). Text p. 8 (as Bucks County Barns).

Forty-Eighth Annual Exhibition of American Art. (exh. cat., Cincinnati Art Museum). Cincinnati, Ohio: Cincinnati Art Museum, 1941. Text, cat. no. 121 (checklist).

Froman, Robert. "Charles Sheeler: 'Super-Realist' with a Paintbrush." Pageant 3, no. 5 (June 1947). Text p. 65; ill. p. 70 (black & white, as Bucks County Barns).

Ross, Kenneth. Schools of 20th Century Painting. (exh. cat., Modern Institute of Art). Beverly Hills, California: Modern Institute of Art, 1948. Text p. 27 (checklist); ill. p. 21 (black & white, as Bucks County Barns).

McBride, Henry. "Attractions in the Galleries." The Sun 116, no. 125 (January 28, 1949): 29. Text p. 29.

Barr, Alfred H. and Edith Halpert. Sheeler-Dove: Exhibition. (exh. cat., Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston). Houston, TX: Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, 1951. Text, cat. no. 38 (as Bucks County Barns).

Dochterman, Lillian Natalie. The Stylistic Development of the Work of Charles Sheeler. PhD dissertation, State University of Iowa, 1963. Text, p. 376, cat. no. 40.208.

Atkinson, D. Scott et al. A Proud Heritage: Two Centuries of American Art. Edited by Terry A. Neff. (exh. cat., Terra Museum of American Art). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 1987. Ill. p. 281, pl. T-172 (color).

Lucic, Karen. The Present and the Past in the work of Charles Sheeler. PhD dissertation, Yale University, 1989. Text pp. 148, 273; ill. fig. 60.

Southgate, M. Therese. "The Cover." The Journal of the American Medical Association 265, no. 14 (April 10, 1991): 1788. Text p. 1788; ill. cover (color).

Bucks County Barn, Charles Sheeler. Collection Cameo sheet, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, August 1992. Ill. (black & white).

Lucic, Karen. Charles Sheeler in Doylestown, American Modernism and the Pennsylvania Tradition. (exh. cat. Allentown Art Museum, Allentown Pennsylvania). Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997. Text pp. 63, 98, 103, 113; ill. p. 99, fig. 11 (black & white).

Cartwright, Derrick R. and Paul J. Karlstrom. American Moderns, 1900–1950. (exh. cat., Musée d'Art Américain Giverny). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2000. Ill. pl. 27, p. 55 (color).

Cartwright, Derrick R. and Paul J. Karlstrom. L'Amérique et les modernes, 1900–1950. (exh. cat., Musée d'Art Américain Giverny). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2000. Pl. 27, p. 55 (color).

Bourguignon, Katherine M. and Elizabeth Kennedy. An American Point of View: The Daniel J. Terra Collection. Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2002. Text p. 162; ill. p. 162 (black & white).

Bourguignon, Katherine M. and Elizabeth Kennedy. Un regard transatlantique. La collection d'art américain de Daniel J. Terra. Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2002. Text p. 162; ill. p. 162 (black & white).

Davidson, Susan, ed. Art in the USA: 300 años de innovación. (exh. cat., Guggenheim Museum Bilbao). New York, NY: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation; Chicago, IL: Terra Foundation for American Art, 2007. Ill. p. 158 (color).

Southgate, M. Therese. The Art of JAMA III: Covers and Essays from the Journal of the American Medical Association. Chicago, Illinois: American Medical Association, 2011. Text pp. 28, 202; ill. opposite p. 28 (color).

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