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Charles Sheeler

River Rouge Plant

1932

Artist

Charles Sheeler (1883-1965)

Title

River Rouge Plant

Date

1932

Medium

Oil and pencil on canvas

Dimensions

Overall (sight): 20 3/8 × 24 5/16 in. (51.8 × 61.8 cm)

Credit line

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Purchase

Accession number

32.43

Object Label

In 1927, an advertising agency hired Charles Sheeler to photograph the Ford Motor Company’s new River Rouge plant, a vast complex ten miles outside Detroit, Michigan. Covering 2,000 acres and employing 75,000 people, River Rouge was the world’s largest factory and the first to fully manufacture cars on site. After finishing the photography assignment, Sheeler produced a series of paintings of the factory complex, including River Rouge Plant. Here, Sheeler depicted the plant’s coal processing and storage facility, set on the serene waters of a boat slip, using the crisp lines and hard-edge geometries of Precisionism. Although the plant had experienced severe labor disputes in the early years of the Depression, Sheeler repressed the human dimension of manufacturing work and focused instead on the factory as a paradigm of modern rationality and order. For Sheeler, American factories were the contemporary equivalent of the cathedral, “our substitute,” he said, “for religious experience.”

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