Ivan Tsarevich riding the Gray Wolf (Иван-царевич на Сером Волке) by Viktor Mikhaylovich Vasnetsov, 1889.
Charles Sheeler, Skyscrapers, 1922
From the Phillips Collection:
Skyscrapers, which reflects the 1920s precisionist aesthetic, is one of Sheeler’s most accomplished assimilations of European modernism into his own uniquely American style. Using sharply defined contours, non-atmospheric planes of color, and intense frontal light, Sheeler conveyed the grandeur of monumental buildings grouped together.
For Skyscrapers, Sheeler made and studied both a photograph and a drawing. In comparing the photograph and the drawing with the final work, one can visualize Sheeler’s gradual reduction and simplification of the scene. By cropping the image, he brought the subject closer to the picture plane. In the painting, Sheeler simplified the image by creating planes of solid color for the shapes that are crucial to the overall structure of the composition. The viewer’s eye is directed into the composition by the diagonal recession of strong gray shadows. Intended as a unifying compositional device rather than a disclosure of time of day, these raking shadows converge on the focal point of the painting, the cubic design in the lower center of the picture. The diagonal contours of the shadows disrupt the otherwise predominantly vertical composition.