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Painting VIII (Mechanical Abstraction)

Morton Livingston Schamberg, American, 1881 - 1918

Geography:
Made in United States, North and Central America

Date:
1916

Medium:
Oil on canvas

Dimensions:
30 1/8 x 20 1/4 inches (76.5 x 51.4 cm) Framed: 31 1/8 × 21 1/4 × 1 3/4 inches (79.1 × 54 × 4.4 cm)

Curatorial Department:
Modern Art

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:
1950-134-181

Credit Line:
The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950

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Label:
This painting is one of a series of nine images of individual machines that Schamberg made in Philadelphia in 1916. The model for this work was an automated wire stitcher, a machine used in the printing industry for binding books. Schamberg found his sources for such images in illustrated trade catalogues. The elegant austerity of the composition highlights the formal beauty of machinery and foreshadows the Precisionist aesthetic developed by Schamberg’s lifelong friend Charles Sheeler.

Additional information:
  • PublicationTwentieth-Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    This painting is one of a series of nine exquisitely crafted images of individual machines that Morton Schamberg made in Philadelphia in 1916. These cool and austere pictures reveal the artist's appreciation of the formal beauty of machinery and industrial manufacturing. They can be viewed today as an important precursor of the Precisionist aesthetic developed by Schamberg's lifelong friend Charles Sheeler, among others, in the 1920s. The immediate inspiration can be found in Marcel Duchamp's precisely rendered chocolate-grinder paintings and Francis Picabia's schematic portraits, although Schamberg's depersonalized mechanical abstractions do not exhibit the sexual symbolism or cryptic humor found in the work of his French colleagues. A more quotidian source for his machine images came from illustrated trade catalogues, which Schamberg borrowed from his brother-in-law, who manufactured ladies' cotton stockings.

    Schamberg's model for Painting VIII (Mechanical Abstraction) was an automated wire stitcher, a machine used in the printing industry for binding books. Painted in muted metallic colors, the stitching machine is comprised of a spool and curved armature holding the wire at the top, with a drive wheel and a mechanical needle below. In each image in the series, the artist isolated the subject from its industrial environment and placed it against a monochromatic background that enhances the iconic appearance of the machinery. Schamberg's crisp representation of a single machine, immaculately rendered and showing all the individual working parts, sometimes in cross-section, recalls his early training at the University of Pennsylvania as an architect. Twentieth Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2000), p. 50.

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