Charles Sheeler (American, 1883–1965)
Oil on canvas
24 x 29 1/8 in. (61 x 74 cm)
Arthur Hoppock Hearn Fund, 1949 (49.128)
Water depicts one of the power generators built by the Tennessee Valley Authority in the 1930s, when hydroelectric power was being distributed throughout the Tennessee River region of the United States. Sheeler's experience as a photographer influenced his Precisionist style of painting, in which he emphasized the geometric shapes of objects in a hard-edged, clearly lit manner. For Sheeler, these monumental, streamlined forms signified human ingenuity in harnessing nature's power. His interpretation of American industry was somewhat idealized: workers are never shown, and the machinery is pristine and gleaming, free of any dirt or smoke. Sheeler expressed his feelings about the emotional symbolism of technology when he wrote: "Every age manifests itself by some external evidence. In a period such as ours when only a comparatively few individuals seem to be given to religion, some form other than the Gothic cathedral must be found. Industry concerns the greatest numbersit may be true, as has been said, that our factories are our substitute for religious expression" (quoted in Constance Rourke, Charles Sheeler: Artist in the American Tradition, 1938).