Charles Sheeler traveled to the West Coast during the summer of 1956 and spent much of his time touring San Francisco and Yosemite. His works from this trip depict well-known sites such as Fisherman's Wharf rendered in the present painting, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Sheeler's late works evolved primarily from photographs, from which he made studies in gouache on glass or tempera on plexiglas. These surfaces gave him the ability to make changes with a wipe of a sponge. Carol Troyen and Erica B. Hirshler write, "San Francisco (Fisherman's Wharf) is based on photographs of the prow of a fisherman's dinghy. In the photographs, the gunwales, oarlocks, and seats cast complex shadows as the boat sparkles in the sunlight. Sheeler's overlapping technique in the oil multiplies the effect, creating sharp, bold shapes and equally bold shadows that form a patchwork across the surface of the canvas" (Charles Sheeler: Paintings and Drawings, Boston, 1987, p. 212).
In discussing San Francisco (Fisherman's Wharf), Ms. Troyen and Ms. Hirshler continue, "Sheeler's color attains new brilliance and luminosity in this picture. The vibrant squares and irregular geometric shapes with crisp edges suggest a highly colored mosaic or--in an effect heightened by his thin, textureless application of paint--dazzling prisms of stained glass. The boat itself, shown upended and parallel to the picture plane, also evokes architectual form. Filling the visual field, looming upward with monumental presence, these arched shapes with pointed tops recall the slender lancet windows of a Gothic cathedral" (Charles Sheeler: Paintings and Drawings, p. 212). The present work illustrates Sheeler's ability to transform a simple boat into an abstract pattern and pays homage to his appreciation for modern technology.
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