Still-life painting was of such importance to Sheeler that he wrote an essay on the subject in about 1925 (unpublished, Forbes Watson Papers, Archives of American Art, Reel D56: 1094). In this essay, Sheeler made clear his admiration of Paul Cézanne, whose work he had seen during a...
Still-life painting was of such importance to Sheeler that he wrote an essay on the subject in about 1925 (unpublished, Forbes Watson Papers, Archives of American Art, Reel D56: 1094). In this essay, Sheeler made clear his admiration of Paul Cézanne, whose work he had seen during a trip to Europe in 1908-09 and subsequently in New York City. He realized that Cézanne's "selection [of objects] is based upon preference in the matter of shapes, surfaces, and quantities related to a geometric structure," and attempted to develop a similar underlying structure in his own work. Sheeler, like Cézanne, favored the genre because he could control the content, layout, and lighting in the pictures. He began making tabletop still lifes as early as 1910, but the mid-1920s were a particularly productive period for him. Sheeler's compositions usually included either fruit or flowers, often arranged in his growing collection of early American glassware and pottery. As Troyen and Hirshler remark, most of Sheeler's pictures of this type are "plain - the flowers were never exotic species, the glassware and furnishings were distinguished by their proportions rather than by surface embellishments - and he rendered them in an understated, self-effacing way" (Carol Troyen and Erica E. Hirshler, "Charles Sheeler: Paintings and Drawings," Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1987, p. 106). "Peaches in a Bowl" is deceptively simple; it portrays two pieces of fruit in a glass compote on a table. Sheeler painted the arrangement as if he were photographing it from above, using a tightly framed, close-up view, which has the effect of tilting up the surface and making his subject seem powerfully immediate. There is subtle tension in the composition. The blue table does not form the anticipated straight line across the background of the picture; the left edge is inexplicably lower than the right. The compote is off-center and cropped on the right. The fruit occupies the left side of the glass container, and together with the shadow, has the effect of making the upper left portion of the picture dense compared with the emptiness in the lower right. This serves to undermine our expectation that the still-life will have a solid base. The off-center placement of the compote and its contents may derive from Sheeler's study of Cézanne's paintings, which often reveal asymmetric compositions [see 48.524]. Equally Cézannesque are the juxtaposition of chromatic opposites - the yellow-orange fruit against the intensely blue table; the broad, parallel brushstrokes that define the peaches; and the sense of the subject as a vignette removed from its context. The geometric shapes - spheres, circles and squares - of the peaches and compote, and the tension between realism and abstraction, invigorate Sheeler's rendering just as they energized the still lifes of the artist he so admired. Janet Comey
The artist; Morton R. Goldsmith, Scarsdale, N. Y. to 1936; Jaap Vandenbergh, North Andover, Mass.; after his death in 1958, by inheritance to his widow, Eva Louise Vandenbergh, who later became Mrs. Ezra Merrill, Mass.; to her estate, 1988; to MFA, 1997, gift of the estate of Eva Louise (Vandenbergh) Merrill.
Gift of the Estate of Eva Louise Merrill