Charles Sheeler's Delmonico Building is a quintessential example of American Precisionism of the 1920s, translated to lithography. A landmark hotel in New York City at the time, the Delmonico was a towering midtown skyscraper, admired for its setback form. The building typifies the kind of structure that Sheeler and other American artists working in the hard-edged, planar, and geometric style known as Cubist-Realism, and later called Precisionism, found inspiring.
In the teens, Sheeler made the transition from academically trained painter to cutting-edge modernist through his interest in industrial design and his work as an architectural photographer, along with his exposure to contemporary European art. The artist is not known to have used a photograph as the basis for Delmonico Building, but the subject, unusual vantage point, and use of light relate to his work on the 1920 film Manhatta, a collaboration with photographer Paul Strand that evokes the dynamism of early-twentieth-century New York through avant-garde film techniques.
The lithograph Yachts relates to a project that Sheeler had planned with Strand in the 1920s, a film about the New York Yacht Club. Although the film never materialized, Sheeler completed an oil painting and a drawing on the subject in 1922. The print, made two years later, further refines the graceful forms of these earlier works through an elegant use of abstracted detail and subtle handling of gray tones.
In only three additional lithographs, Sheeler chose as subjects a barn, a still life, and an industrial landscape, again crystallizing studies of form first explored in other mediums. He made all five of his lithographs between 1918 and 1928 at the workshop of George C. Miller, a well-known printer who collaborated with several important American artists, giving the medium a modern cachet. Sheeler's final print, a color screenprint from 1954, was again an architectural rendering, based on a painting.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Jennifer Roberts, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 118.