Lot 7
  • 7

Charles Sheeler

200,000 - 300,000 USD
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  • Charles Sheeler
  • Signed in pencil on the mount
  • Gelatin silver print
  • 9 1/4 x 5 7/8 inches
mounted, signed in pencil on the mount, framed, 1935


Collection of Arnold Newman

Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, 2006


Constance Rourke, Charles Sheeler: Artist in the American Tradition (New York, 1938), p. 192 (a print now in The Vernon Collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art)

Martin Friedman, Bartlett Haynes, and Charles Millard, Charles Sheeler (Smithsonian Institution, 1968), p. 86, no. 77 (a print now in the Lane Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

The Elite and Popular Appeal of the Art of Charles Sheeler (New York: James Maroney, 1986), pl. 19 (a print now in the J. Paul Getty Museum)

Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., and Norman Keyes, Jr., Charles Sheeler: The Photographs (Boston, 1987), pl. 74 (Lane Collection print)

Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., Gilles Mora, and Karen E. Haas, The Photography of Charles Sheeler: American Modernist (Boston, 2002), p. 193 (Lane Collection print)

Martin Friedman, Charles Sheeler (New York, 1975), p. 103 (Lane Collection print)

Britt Salvesen, See The Light—Photography, Perception, Cognition: The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2013), p. 167 (Vernon Collection print)


As in the best of Sheeler's photographic prints, this image captures both the intensity and the subtlety of light. Through Sheeler's deft handling, the entire stairwell is filled with varying degrees of light: from the white-hot sunbeam on the lower stair and wall, to the nuanced tonal gradations of the entire space. It is Sheeler's control of the light, both during the camera exposure and in the darkroom, that gives this image a sense of three-dimensionality, and the space a sense of volume. The print itself is in excellent condition. It is on double-weight paper with Sheeler's distinctive green/warm-gray tonality. The paper's surface is very faintly glossy. Very faint silvering can be seen in the print's periphery. The photograph trimmed flush to the image, and mounted to a large sheet of thin off-white board. Sheeler has signed the board, just under the lower right corner of the image, in his characteristic tidy hand. The mount shows minor soiling at the edges, more noticeably along the top edge. On the reverse, the mount is hinged along the left edge to a slightly larger sheet of modern one-ply board.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Charles Sheeler’s Stairwell, Williamsburg, combines the artist’s love of the American vernacular with his distinctive sense of form.  Taken on a visit to Colonial Williamsburg, made at the behest of his patron Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, the image is a radical standout in Sheeler’s more traditional studies of the town’s architecture and interiors.    Stairwell, Williamsburg, is in one sense the culmination of a series of staircase photographs begun at Sheeler’s home in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, in 1917.   In the Doylestown photographs, however, the motif of the staircase is always recognizable.  In the image offered here, the sense of abstraction is almost complete, with light and space providing the principle subject matter. 

Charles Sheeler was a sophisticated collector of early American furniture and crafts.  His initial interest in the field may have been inspired by the connoisseurs Louise and Walter Arensberg, whose art-filled apartment he photographed early in his career.  His exclusive gallerist, Edith Halpert, opened the first American folk art gallery in New York, in 1929, and among her best customers was Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, who commissioned Sheeler’s work in Williamsburg and founded the folk art museum there.   Sheeler’s homes in South Salem, New York, and later in Ridgefield, Connecticut, were furnished with Americana, especially the simple Shaker furniture he loved.  His respect for form is reflected in the clean, simple lines of his drawings, his meticulous paintings in oil, and in photographs such as Stairwell, Williamsburg

Extant prints of the image offered here, as with most of Sheeler’s photographs, are scarce.  The Lane Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the great repository of Sheeler’s work, owns a print of this image, as does The Museum of Modern Art, a gift to the Museum from Sheeler’s Connecticut neighbor Edward Steichen.   The J. Paul Getty Museum owns a print that was acquired from the gallerist James Maroney, a print that had come originally from Sheeler’s estate.

At Sotheby’s New York in 1984, the Weston Gallery, on behalf of Marjorie and Leonard Vernon, purchased what is believed to be the only other print of this image ever offered at auction, a print now in The Vernon Collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.   The Vernon print was originally owned by Constance Rourke, Sheeler’s friend and biographer, and had been consigned to the 1984 auction by her family.   In her Charles Sheeler: Artist in the American Tradition, Rourke wrote eloquently of the photograph offered here:

‘His photograph of a stairwell at Williamsburg may seem to some observers an almost wholly subjective picture, even a symbolic representation of a phase of mind—abstract, severe, contemplative—particularly if it is set alongside one of [his] very expressive free series of windy cloud and sky forms . . . If a subjective content exists in the “Stairwell,” it is because the view which could reveal this has been subtly chosen, the record exquisitely made, from the time the camera was focused upon the subject until the print was mounted’ (p. 123). 

The present print, possibly the only print of the image still in private hands, comes originally from the collection of the photographer Arnold Newman (1918 – 2006), who photographed Sheeler in 1942.