This painting, done by Charles Sheeler in 1931, is called Classic Landscape. It portrays the massive Ford River Rouge plant in Michigan.
Here is how the painting is discussed in American Art And Architecture by Michael Lewis:
“….at the end of 1927…Ford unveiled the new Model A…to riotous crowds. Ford carefully planned its advertising campaign, engaging Charles Sheeler to photograph the complex at River Rouge where it was manufactured. His role was purely that of a commerical artist but the immensity of the site and factory overwhelmed him. Sprawling over 1,100 acres, it had a sense of colossal scale like that of the Egyptian pyramids or the cathedrals of medieval Europe. And like those monuments, the factories seemed to embody physically the great social forces of the age….He soon began to make paintings based on his photographs, imitating not only their compositions but their photographic character: their crispness…and..abstract geometric forms in almost airless space….adopted the values of the machine—clarity, precision, razor edges, and clean form. (This) became known as Precisionism, the leading school of American realism in the art of the 1920’s and 1930’s. ”
I like Classic Landscape, though I find it a bit dry. It does indeed have the “values of the machine.” While I would enjoy seeing this painting in a museum, I think it would depress me if I owned it and saw it all the time.
I think we do best when we are only as precise as we must be, not only in terms of honesty, but in terms of conveying the right facts within the larger context to best explain the issue at hand. A measure of symbolism in this painting, such as some hint of movement, might have suggested this was an auto plant. The railroad track is a suggestion of movement, yet the tracks seem abandoned. Nothing is moving. The clouds and shadows also imply movement. But the clouds are gray and motionless. And the shadows are reflecting off the landscape created by the factory.
The idea could be that the factory is the mover of things and not part of an interconnected world. Since there are no people or animals in the painting, it’s almost as if the factory created itself and now directs the world according to it’s own plan. Yet the natural world, people, and, in modern times, machines, all help make the world. At least they do for the brief time human beings will be on the Earth.
If I had artistic talent, I would paint a picture suggesting harmony. I’m not thinking of harmony in the sense of everything moving towards the same end or goal, but rather the measure of harmony I feel that we can discern in the controlled disorder of our world, universe, and all existence.
These things said, Classic Landscape is a helluva painting by a talented guy.