- Cult of the Machine: Precisionism and American ArtBy Emma Acker
- America's Cool Modernism: O'Keeffe to HooperBy Katherine Bourgignon
- Precisionism in America 1915-1941: Reordering RealityBy Diana Murphy
- Stuart Davis: In Full SwingBy Barbara Haskell
- Charles Sheeler: Modernism, Precisionism and the Borders of AbstractionBy Mark Rawlinson
- Chimneys and Towers: Charles Demuth's Late PaintingsBy Betsy Fahlman
- Georgia O'Keefe: New York YearsBy Doris Bry and Nicholas Callaway
- Joseph StellaBy Barbara Haskell
- Joseph Stella's SymbolismBy Irma B. Jaffe
- To Make a World: George Ault and 1940s AmericaBy Alexander Nemerov
- Elsie Driggs: The Quick and the ClassicalBy Constance Kimmerle
- Morton Livingston Schamberg: a MonographBy Ben Wolf
Important Art and Artists of Precisionism
Wall Street is amongst the most iconic American images of the early twentieth century. It marked a clear departure for Strand, away from a style of photographic Pictorialism whereby the photographer used a camera and dark-room manipulation to produce soft-focus images that mimicked the Pictorialist style of painting. The image is an early example of Strand's move into documentary realism and abstraction, which he often incorporated within the same frame. On the one hand, Strand offers the spectator an objective - or "Straight" - record of a street scene showing walking commuters; on the other, we have a high-contrast interplay of light and dark as the shadows formed by the niches of the large Morgan Trust Bank building produce a sloping geometric pattern.
The geometric solidity of the imposing, temple-like building dwarfs the silhouetted figures who become anonymous - shapes stretched through elongated shadows. Strand was encouraged by the influential photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz to emphasise contrast, clean lines, and patterns in his works. Precisionist painters, who were also mentored by Stieglitz, were inspired by Strand's approach, reducing forms to their underlying geometry, and copying the camera's ability to crop in closely on compositions and reveal objectively the essence or core of ordinary objects and everyday scenes. Georgia O'Keeffe (to whom Strand sent love letters before she married his friend Stieglitz), in particular, shared in Strand's search for abstraction through close-up images of natural forms, but believed that painting could express something beyond the limits of the (mechanical) camera. It is said that Edward Hopper became fascinated with this image, and adopted some of the same formal techniques for his own paintings.
In the two or three years before his untimely death (aged 37, in the 1918 flu pandemic) Schamberg painted a series of objects sourced from illustrations in machinery catalogues (borrowed from his brother-in-law who worked for a hosiery company). Having died so prematurely, his position in the Precisionist movement is one of a forefather, who exerted especial influence over artists such as Charles Sheeler and Charles Demuth, both of whom explored mechanical themes in their painting.
Born in 1881 in Philadelphia, Schamberg qualified as an architect before enrolling as a post-graduate student at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) where he studied under the impressionist William Merritt Chase. Following his time at the PAFA, he undertook several tours of Europe, sometimes accompanied by Chase and Sheeler. In Europe he confirmed his appreciation for the Old Masters but also encountered the works of modernists for the first time. As the auction house Sotheby's described it, while in Paris "He came to appreciate the underlying geometry he saw in compositions by Pablo Picasso and Paul Cézanne, as well as Henri Matisse's use of vivid, non-associative color [and his] immersion with these modes of visual expression proved deeply influential". Sotheby's adds that although Schamberg "did not fully abandon realistic subject matter, the works he created upon his return to the United States display[ed] a new concern for the structural rather than the representational function of color and he increasingly flattened and fragmented forms".
Referring to Painting VI, Sotheby's suggests that "Although the object is undoubtedly industrial in nature, Schamberg's reductive treatment makes it difficult to immediately identify and for many years it was incorrectly identified as a 'camera flashlight.' Indeed, the artist simplifies the components of the object to their most basic, geometric forms and places the machine in an amorphous setting, dissociating it from the larger context of the factory. As Schamberg's subject approaches abstraction he invites the viewer to consider it not for its function, but rather for its distinctive shape, color and form". Citing the art historian Wilford W. Scott, Sotheby's explains that the "imagery of the painting invites comparisons with the work of Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia, who similarly utilized the machine as subject matter in this period". Scott argues, however, that Schamberg "never subscribed to the satirical undertones embedded in the work of these artists" and that his formal approach avoided the "typical 'Dada' subversion of traditional art and meaning [and that in] discovering a new subject for his formal analysis, Schamberg transformed machines from objects of Dada irony and wit into objects of beauty".
Following his showing at the influential Armory Show in 1913, where he exhibited a Futurist-inspired painting of Coney Island, Stella, an Italian immigrant, emerged as a key figure in the New York art scene. It is often argued that his images of New York, and especially the many he made of the Brooklyn Bridge - what he called "the shrine containing all the efforts of the new civilization of America" - were captured with an element of religiosity. Most critics and historians are in agreement that his paintings probably achieved their extraordinary power because they were viewed through the eyes of an "outsider".
Stella first painted the bridge in 1918 and returned to it repeatedly throughout his career. Rather than capturing the structure literally, Stella presents a fractured, color-saturated, Cubist/Futurist evocation of a technological wonder, an almost mystical response to its wires and cables, walkways and tunnels, arches and granite piers - all of it re-configured into a transcendent image reminiscent of a Gothic cathedral, a Renaissance altarpiece or a stained glass window. By melding contemporary progress with historical allusions, Brooklyn Bridge became for Stella a symbol of progress and human achievement. "I felt deeply moved," he said of it, "as if on the threshold of a new religion or in the presence of a new DIVINITY". The Whitney Museum of American Art added that "By combining contemporary architecture and historical allusions, Stella transformed the Brooklyn Bridge into a twentieth-century symbol of divinity, the quintessence of modern life and the Machine Age".