The painter and photographer Charles Sheeler was a seminal member of the American avant-garde circle of Alfred Stieglitz. Following his trip to Paris in 1909, where he came into contact with Cubism, he devoted himself chiefly to photography, while his own Cubist-inspired style of painting gradually took shape. His original approach to objects — which came to be called Precisionism or Cubist-Realism — defined his entire artistic career.
Wind, Sea and Sail, dated 1948, is a later version of a similar painting and drawing executed in 1922. It is an emotionally distant, frozen image painted using the flat and impersonal technique characteristic of Precisionism. Both the earlier oil painting, entitled Pertaining to Yachts and Yachting, and the later work belonging to the Collection show a very abstract handling of a theme that is rarely found in Sheeler’s output — the study of light and the rhythms of the forms of sails, defined by the artist as a “study in polyphonic form.”
Sheeler’s most common subject matter is industrial landscapes, urban views and interiors, similar to the themes he had captured in his photographs. It is evident, not only from Sheeler’s choice of subject matter and optical angles but also, as with the present work, from the transparency, how much his painting is indebted to photography. The overlapping of planes may also recall the multiple exposures of experimental photography.