About This Artwork

Charles Sheeler
American, 1883–1965

The Artist Looks at Nature, 1943

Oil on canvas
53.3 x 45.7 cm (21 x 18 in.)
Inscribed lower right: Sheeler. 1943

Gift of Society for Contemporary American Art, 1944.32

Contrary to its title, this intriguing and enigmatic self-portrait shows the artist, Charles Sheeler, ignoring the brightly lit landscape in front of him. Nature, as depicted here, is surreal, with inexplicable discrepancies of scale and perspective. The fields suggest the terrain around Sheeler’s Connecticut home, while the massive walls recall Hoover Dam, which the artist photographed in 1939. In the painting, Sheeler works intently on a monochromatic drawing of an antiquated stove, which is based on a photograph he took in 1917. His self-portrait also relies upon a photographic self-portrait he took in 1931. Yet despite these deliberate references to his own work, the painting’s meaning is ambiguous. Perhaps Sheeler wished to evoke the many vistas open to an artist, the literal and figurative landscapes of place and mind.

— Permanent collection label

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

Lincoln, Neb., Nebraska Art Association, University Art Galleries, University of Nebraska, Fifth-Fourth Annual Exhibition of Contemporary Art, March 5-April 2, 1944, cat. 133.

Pittsburgh, Pa., Carnegie Institute of Art, Painting in the United States, 1944, October 12–December 10, 1944, cat. 4.

Indianapolis, John Herron Art Museum, Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Paintings, January 1-February 4, 1945, cat. 51.

New York, The Downtown Gallery, Exhibition of Recent Paintings by Charles Sheeler, March 5-23, 1946, cat. 2.

Andover, Mass., Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, October 10-November 25, 1946, no cat.

Hartford, Connecticut, Wadsworth Atheneum, Pictures within Pictures, November 9–December 31, 1949, cat. 38, ill. pl. III, traveled to Andover, Massachusetts, Phillips Academy, Addison Gallery of American Art, January 6–February 12, 1950.

Houston, Tex., Contemporary Arts Museum, Sheeler Dove Exhibition, January 7–23, 1951, cat. 41.

Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, Charles Sheeler, May 18–June 15, 1952, no cat.

Los Angeles, University of California, Art Galleries, Charles Sheeler: A Retrospective Exhibition, October 11-November 7, 1954, cat. 24, ill. p. 31; traveled to San Francisco, M. H. De Young Memorial Museum; Fort Worth Art Center; Utica, Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; San Diego Fine Arts Gallery. [October 11, 1954–June 15, 1955 was entirety of travel time to all museums.]

Lake Forest College, Illinois, Durand Art Institute, A Century of American Painting: Masterpieces Loaned by the Art Institute of Chicago, June 10–16, 1957, cat. 30.

Kansas City, Mo., William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art, Aspects of Representation in Contemporary Art, February 8-March 8, 1959, cat. 24.

Allentown, Pa., Allentown Art Museum, Charles Sheeler: Retrospective Exhibition, November 17-December 31, 1961, cat. 27.

New York, Museum of Modern Art, Art in the Mirror, November 22, 1966–February 5, 1967; traveled to Mansfield, Ohio, Mansfield Fine Arts Guild, March 10–April 2, 1967; San Francisco State College, April 24–May 14, 1967; Los Angeles, Municipal Art Gallery, June 27–July 23, 1967; Van Nuys, California, Los Angeles Valley College, August 22–October 15, 1967; Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, November 1–December 3, 1967; Oswego, New York, State University College, February 13–March 3, 1968; no cat.

Washington, D.C., The National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution, Charles Sheeler, October 10–November 24, 1968, cat. 98, ill. p. 67; traveled to Philadelphia Museum of Art, January 10–February 16, 1969; Whitney Museum of American Art, March 11–April 27, 1969 (Washington, D.C. only).

Bloomington, Indiana University Art Museum, The American Scene 1900-1970: an exhibition of twentieth century painting held in honor of the Sesquicentennial of Indiana University, April 5-May 17, 1970, cat. 35, pl. 35.

Berlin, Akademie der Künste, Amerika: Traum und Depression, 1920 / 1940, November 9–December 28, 1980, cat. 312, ill. abb. 57, p. 121; traveled to Hamburg, Kunstverein, January 11–February 15, 1981.

New Haven, Yale University Art Gallery, Charles Sheeler: American Interiors, April 1–May 31, 1987, cat. 14, ill. p. 35.

Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Charles Sheeler: Paintings, Drawings, Photographs, October 13, 1987–January 3, 1988, cat. 66, ill. p. 185; traveled to Whitney Museum of American Art, January 28–April 17, 1988; Dallas Museum of Art, May 15–July 10, 1988.

Berlin, Neue Nationalgalerie, George Grosz: Berlin–New York, December 21, 1994–April 17, 1995, cat. III.21, ill. p. 118; traveled to Düsseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, May 6–July 30, 1995; Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, September 7–December 3, 1995.

Allentown, Pa., Allentown Art Museum, Charles Sheeler in Doylestown: American Modernism and the Pennsylvania Tradition, April 6-June 22, 1997, cat. 51; traveled to Forth Worth, Tex., Amon Carter Museum, August 23-November 2, 1997, Cincinnati, Ohio, Cincinnati Art Museum, December 19, 1997-March 1, 1998.

Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Charles Sheeler: Across Media, May 7-August 27, 2006, cat. 34, ill. p. 121; traveled to Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago, October 7, 2006-January 7, 2007, San Francisco, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, de Young Museum, February 10-May 6, 2007.

Publication History

"Charles Sheeler: The Artist Looks at Nature, 1943," Art News 43, 13 (Oct. 15-31, 1944), p. 10, ill.

Frederick A. Sweet, "Three American Paintings," Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago 39, 1 (Jan. 1945), pp. 5-7, ill.

Frederick S. Wight, "Charles Sheeler," in Charles Sheeler: A Retrospective Exhibition (Los Angeles: University of California Art Galleries, 1954), p. 42, ill. p. 31.

Martin L. Friedman, The Precisionist View in American Art: Ault, Blume, Crawford, Davis, Demuth, Dickinson, Driggs, Guglielmi, Hirsch, Lewandowski, Lozowick, O'Keeffe, Schamberg, Sheeler, Spencer, Stella (Walker Art Center, 1960), n. 17, p. 25.

Lillian Dochterman, The Stylistic Development of the Work of Charles Sheeler (Ph.D. diss., State University of Iowa, 1963), pp. 82-3, 389, cat. 43.221, ill. p. 389.

Martin Friedman, "The Art of Charles Sheeler: Americana in a Vacuum," in Charles Sheeler (Published for the National Collection of Fine Art by the Smithsonian Institution Press, 1968), p. 37, ill. p. 67.

Bartlett Hayes, "Reminiscence" in Charles Sheeler (Published for the National Collection of Fine Art by the Smithsonian Institution Press, 1968), p. 71-3, ill. p. 67.

Martin Friedman, Charles Sheeler (Watson-Guptill Publications, 1975), p. 92, 131, ill. p. 121

Susan Fillin-Yeh, Charles Sheeler and the Machine Age (Ph.D. diss, City University of New York, 1981), pp. 99-100, 110-11.

James Maroney, The Elite and Popular Appeal of the Art of Charles Sheeler (James Maroney, Inc., 1986), p. 14.

Susan Fillin-Yeh, "Charles Sheeler's American interiors," Antiques 131 (April 1987), pp. 828-37, ill. pl. I.

Susan Fillin-Yeh, Charles Sheeler: American Interiors (Yale University Art Gallery, 1987), p. 19, 21, 34, ill. p. 35.

Carol Troyen and Erica E. Hirshler, Charles Sheeler: Paintings and Drawings, exh. cat. (Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, 1987), pp. 33, 183-4, ill. p. 185.

Karen Lucic, Charles Sheeler and the Cult of the Machine (Reaktion Books, 1991), pp. 137-39, fig. 66.

Art Institute of Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago: Twentieth-Century Painting and Sculpture, selected by James N. Wood and Teri J. Edelstein (Art Institute of Chicago, 1996), p. 90, ill.

Karen Lucic, Charles Sheeler in Doylestown: American Modernism and the Pennsylvania Tradition (Allentown Art Museum, 1997), p. 97-8, 110-11, ill. p. 110.

Karen E. Haas, "'Opening the Other Eye': Charles Sheeler and the Uses of Photography, in The Photography of Charles Sheeler: American Modernist (Bulfinch Press, 2002), p. 133-34, ill. p. 133.

Charles Brock, Charles Sheeler: Across Media, exh. cat. (National Gallery of Art in association with University of California Press, 2006), pp. 108-117, ill. p. 121.

Judith A. Barter et al., "American Modernism at the Art Institute of Chicago, From World War I to 1955," (Art Institute of Chicago/Yale University Press, 2009), cat. 148.

"Paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago, Highlights of the Collection," (Art Institute of Chicago/Yale University Press, 2017) p. 131.

Ownership History

The artist; sold through the Downtown Gallery to the Art Institute, 1944.

View mobile website