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The Artist Looks at Nature

Painting of artist drawing on easel, green landscape, stone walls surround him.

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  • Painting of artist drawing on easel, green landscape, stone walls surround him.




Charles Sheeler
American, 1883–1965

About this artwork

A photographer as well as a painter, Charles Sheeler considered the purposes of art as carefully as anyone of his generation of early twentieth-century modernists. In both media, he usually drew his subjects from the world of constructed objects: urban architecture, factories, and barns, as well as interiors often furnished with the spare, elegant eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Shaker furniture he admired. These subjects were rendered (or, in the case of his most abstract paintings, suggested) in a hard-edged, controlled technique indicative of the artist’s restrained and intellectual point of view and interest in formal values.

For the typically objective Sheeler, The Artist Looks at Nature is an unusual work because it represents an imaginary scene. Here we see the artist outdoors, but what is before him is not what is on his easel. The unfinished work reproduces Interior with Stove (1932; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC), a much earlier Conté-crayon drawing based on an even earlier photograph by the artist. Thus, in the Art Institute’s painting, we see Sheeler almost playfully reconstructing his own past over a period of more than twenty-five years, emphasizing the self-referential nature of his art and suggesting the interchange between the representational modes of photography and painting. One of Sheeler’s most complex yet charming works, The Artist Looks at Nature implies much about the ironies and ambiguities of art in the last century.


On View, Gallery 263


Arts of the Americas


Charles Sheeler


The Artist Looks at Nature


United States




Oil on canvas


Inscribed lower right: Sheeler. 1943


53.3 × 45.7 cm (21 × 18 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Society for Contemporary American Art

Reference Number


Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email . Information about image downloads and licensing is available here.


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