Stairway to the Studio

Charles Sheeler, American, 1883 - 1965

Made in New York, New York, United States, North and Central America


Black fabricated chalk and matte opaque paint (possibly casein) on laid paper

Sheet: 25 3/8 x 19 3/4 inches (64.5 x 50.2 cm)

Research inconclusive. Copyright may apply.

Curatorial Department:
Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Bequest of Mrs. Earl Horter in memory of her husband, 1985

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Empty hallways and endless staircases were favorite subjects of Sheeler, although he denied that his fascination with these Surrealist motifs owed anything to the images of that artistic movement. In this most austere of his stairway compositions, we are faced with stark contradictions between plunging perspective and abstract surface pattern, and between matter-of-fact realism and the haunting loneliness of the stairway climbing to infinity. This particular staircase led to Sheeler's studio above the Whitney Studio Club on West Eighth Street in New York.

Additional information:
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections

    In the course of his fifty-year career as a painter and photographer, which spanned the 1910s through the 1950s, Philadelphia-born and -trained Charles Sheeler became widely known as one of America's important modernists. He was among those artists who developed a style known as Precisionism which was characterized by sharp, clear pictorial definitions and contrasts, the pursuit of either extreme realism or Cubist-derived abstraction, and a focus on American regional landscapes or cityscapes. Sheeler was particularly interested in applying the cool rigor of Precisionism to his numerous views of staircases, which he depicted in various mediums, including oil, crayon, gouache, and photography. Extracted from any context, compositionally isolated, reduced to geometric essentials, and abstracted into textureless patterns of line and plane, Sheeler's staircases are typical of his mature architectural subjects in their strict simplification. This drawing of 1924, which represents the stairs to Sheeler's studio at 10 West Eighth Street in New York, is the most abstract and austere of all his staircase works. Ann Percy, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 243-4.