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Artist: Charles Sheeler (American, 1883 - 1965)

Date: 1923
Medium: Charcoal and watercolor on laid paper mounted on heavy paper
Overall: 16 7/16 x 12 1/2in. (41.8 x 31.8cm)
Framed: 30 1/2 x 24 1/2 x 2in. (77.5 x 62.2 x 5.1cm)
Inscribed: Recto, lower right (graphite): "Sheeler 1923"
Credit Line: Edward W. Root Bequest
Object number: 57.233
Text Entries

Siphon belongs to a group of still life works on paper that Sheeler created between 1922 and 1924. With its large scale and mixed media, this body of material expands the notion of drawing as preliminary study or minor work. Sheeler admired the seemingly mundane objects in this series for their inherent and abstract beauty; he invested the forms with majestic immutability. In the MWPI drawing, he depicted a dark-green wine glass with a clear-glass siphon and vase; he lent monumentality by excluding extraneous detail and by focusing closely on the three objects.(2) The cool grandeur that pervades the image can be attributed, as well, to Sheeler’s refined drawing technique.(3)

Some of the still life compositions from this series reveal themselves to be illogical or slightly distorted.(4) Sheeler was playing with pictorial concerns in emulation of Cezanne, whom he credited with divorcing the still life from its “human association” and elevating it to a study of “geometric structure.”(5) Sheeler sought to isolate and suspend objects in space “[with] the intention of presenting forms in relation to each other and to spaces and solids without atmospheric envelopment.”(6) He manifested this intention in the MWPI drawing. To the right and center Sheeler drew a thin line to indicate a surface on which the three objects rest, but to the left, because the line virtually disappears, the siphon seems to float. The MWPI drawing also demonstrates Sheeler’s fascination with the interplay of light and shadow, another means to investigate spaces and solids.(7) In arranging a still life with objects of both clear and colored glass on a reflective table surface)(8) coupled with the distortions derived from water in a round bottle, Sheeler provided himself with endless possibilities for exploring transparency, solids, and voids. Of the three “real” objects in the drawing, the siphon and vase frequently have less physical presence than their dark, sculptural shadows.


1. The 1924 “Exhibition of Selected Works by Charles Sheeler” at the Whitney Studio Galleries included a work of unspecified medium entitled Syphon, Glass, 1924 (cat. 5). See Charles Sheeler Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., microfilm NSh-1, frames 425-26.

2. Sheeler used this glass in Chrysanthemums, 1923 (Columbus Museum of Art) and in Still Life with Pitcher and Peaches, 1923 (The Santa Barbara Museum of Art). Jane Spillman, of the Corning Museum of Glass, has identified the style of wine glass as probably English, c. 1820-50. The vase, though somewhat elongated, appears to be the same Sheeler used in his lithograph Roses, c. 1923.

3. Sheeler wrote, “I have come to favor the picture which arrives at its destination without the evidence of a trying journey.“ Sheeler Papers, microfilm NSh-1, frame 89.

4. See, for example, Carol Troyen and Erica E. Hirshler, Charles Sheeler: Paintings and Drawings (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1986), 85-89, 94-95, and 100-101.

5. Sheeler, unpublished essay, Forbes Watson Papers, Archives of American Art, microfilm 56, frame 1094. Sheeler frequented the Arensbergs’s New York salon prior to their departure for California in 1921; according to Constance Rourke, Charles Sheeler, Artist in the American Tradition (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1938, and Kennedy Galleries, Inc., and Da Capo Press, 1969), 45-46, the Arensbergs sometimes lent their small Cezanne still life to Sheeler.

6. Sheeler Papers, microfilm NSh-1, frame 91.

7. Sheeler wrote, “Shadows were considered to be concrete forms as essential to the structure of the picture as the solids appearing in it rather than being projections from the solids denoting the absence of light." Sheeler Papers, microfilm NSh-1, frame 67. Still Life with Shadows (formerly Objects on a Table, Columbus Museum of Art), 1924, may be the most regularly cited example in the still life series to illustrate this point. See Dochterman, Quest of Charles Sheeler, 16-17; Driscoll, Charles Sheeler: The Works on Paper, 56-57; Anne D’Harnoncourt, in Philadelphia: Three Centuries of American Art, ed. Darrell Sewell (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1976), 526-27; Susan Fillin—Yeh, “Charles Sheeler and the Machine Age,” (Ph.D. diss., City University of New York, 1981), 125; and Troyen and Hirshler, Charles Sheeler: Paintings and Drawings, 100.

8. This is probably the glass-topped table depicted in Still Life with Shadows (Columbus Museum of Art).


Orphaned work.