© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

Combining the reductive geometry of cubism with the crisply delineated and simplified forms of the ocean liner’s motors, ventilator stacks, and exhaust fans, Upper Deck is a quintessential work of the American precisionist movement. Indeed, this machine age–inspired painting streamlines even the heightened realism of Sheeler’s photograph that was its source. In the painting, the artist has stripped away every detail that would situate the scene in the working world, erasing the rivets, workers, steam, even the orientation of a horizon line. The resulting scene is uncannily devoid of human presence. Sheeler denied affiliation with either cubism or surrealism, and yet his realization that “a picture could have incorporated in it the structural design implied in abstraction and be presented in a wholly realistic manner” demonstrates the unavoidable influence of these artistic movements.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Charles Sheeler, American (Philadelphia, PA 1883 - 1965 Dobbs Ferry, NY)
Upper Deck
Work Type
Creation Place: North America, United States
Level 1, Room 1300, Modern and Contemporary Art, Early Modernism
View this object's location on our interactive map
Physical Descriptions
Oil on canvas
73 x 55.3 cm (28 3/4 x 21 3/4 in.)
framed: 87 x 69.2 x 3.5 cm (34 1/4 x 27 1/4 x 1 3/8 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: l.r.: Sheeler 29
[Downtown Gallery, New York, New York], sold; to Fogg Art Museum, 1933.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Louise E. Bettens Fund
Accession Year
Object Number
Modern and Contemporary Art
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Publication History

Jules David Prown and Barbara Rose, American Painting: From the Colonial Period to the Present, Skira Rizzoli (New York), ill.

William Germain Dooley, "Realist Trio Show Harvard Their Works", Boston Evening Transcript (Boston, MA, December 8, 1934), p. 7

Janet Congdon, "Some Important Museum Acquisitions", Parnassus (February 1934), vol. VI, no. II, pp. 18-19, p. 18

[Unidentified article], Parnassus (February 1934), vol. VI, no. 2, p. 18

Alan Burroughs, Limners and Likenesses: Three Centuries of American Painting, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA, 1936), p. 184, fig. 160

Constance Rourke, Charles Sheeler, Artist in the American Tradition, Harcourt, Brace and Co. (New York, NY, 1938), p. 81

[Unidentified article], Art Digest (October 15, 1939), cover, ill., p. 6

Dorothy Adlow, "The Real and Ideal in American Art", The Christian Science Monitor (September 13, 1948), p.4, ill.

Fogg Art Museum and Benjamin Rowland, Jr., Real and Ideal in American Art, exh. cat. (Cambridge, MA, Summer 1948), cat. 33

John I. H. Baur, Revolution and Tradition in American Art, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA, 1951), reproduced fig. 74

Milton W. Brown, American Painting: Art from the Armory Show to the Depression, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ, 1952), no. 69, ill.

Charles Sheeler: A Retrospective Exhibition, exh. cat., University of California at Los Angeles (Los Angeles, CA, 1954)

John I. H. Baur, ed., New Art in America: Fifty Painters of the 20th Century, New York Graphic Society (Greenwich CT/Praeger, New York, 1957), p. 98

John I. H. Bauer, "Paintings and Sculpture", An Outline of Man's Knowledge of the Modern World, ed. Lyman Bryson, Doubleday & Co. (New York, NY, 1960), p. ?

Oliver W. Larkin, Art and Life in America, Rinehart (New York, NY, 1960), ill. p. 388

The Precisionist View in American Art, exh. cat., Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, MN, 1960), p. ?

Dorothy Adlow, "The Home Forum", The Christian Science Monitor (June 18, 1962), ill.

John D. Hicks, The American Nation, Houghton Mifflin Company (New York, NY, 1963), ill. p.

John Caughey and Ernest R. May, A History of the United States, Rand-McNally (New York, NY, 1964), ill. p.

U.S.A., Time-Life Books (New York, NY, 1965), ill.

George Heard Hamilton, Art of Modern Times, Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (New York, NY, 1966), ill.

Francesco Abbate, Arte in America, Elite (Milan, Italy, 1966), no. 60, ill.

Edward B. Henning, Fifty Years of Modern Art 1916-1966, exh. cat., Cleveland Museum of Art (Cleveland, OH, 1966), unpaginated, cat. 46, ill. (b/w)

Enrico Crispolti, La Pop Art, Fratelli Fabbri Editori (Milan, Italy, 1966), ill.

Edmund Burke Feldman, Art as Image and Idea, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1967), ill. p. 154

Martin Friedman, Charles Sheeler, exh. cat., National Collection of Fine Arts (Washington, D.C, 1968), cat. 54, ill. p. 32

Barbara Rose, American Painting: The Twentieth Century, Skira (New York, NY, 1969), ill. p. 27

Daniel M. Mendelowitz, A History of American Art, Holt, Rinehart & Winston (New York, NY, 1970), pp. 405-406, fig. 549

American Painting, 1900-1970, Time-Life Books (New York, NY, 1970), ill.

Forerunners of American Abstraction, exh. cat., Carnegie Institute (Pittsburgh, PA, 1970), cat. 91

Emily Wasserman, The American Scene: Early Twentieth Century, McCall Collection of Modern Art (New York, NY, 1970), pl. 2B

Abraham A. Davidson, Beginnings of Modernism in American Art, Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (New York, NY, 1971), ill.

Louise Todd Ambler and Kenyon Castle Bolton, III, "American Painting at Harvard", Antiques (New York, NY, November 1972), vol. 102, no. 5, pp. 876-883, pp. 877-878, fig. 4

Kenyon Castle Bolton, III, Peter G. Huenink, Earl A. Powell III, Harry Z. Rand, and Nanette C. Sexton, American Art at Harvard, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1972), cat. 143, ill.

Sam Hunter, American Art of the 20th Century, Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (New York, NY, 1972), ill. p. 120

James Guimond, "After Imagism", The Ohio Review (Fall 1973), vol. XV, no. 1, pp. 9-10, fig. 1

Jean Lipman, Rediscovery: Jurgan Frederick Huge (1809-1878), Archives of American Art (New York) (New York, NY, 1973), ill. p. 6

Marshall B. Davidson, The Artist's America, American Heritage Publishing Co. (New York, NY, 1973)

The Britannica Encyclopedia of American Art, Simon & Schuster (New York, 1973), ill. p. 13

John Wilmerding, ed., The Genius of American Painting, William Morrow & Company (New York, 1973), ill. p. 250

Janet Cox, "Color in Art", Harvard Magazine (Cambridge, MA, June 1974), vol. 76, no. 10, pp. 28-39, ill. p. 36

James N. Carpenter, Color in Art: A Tribute to Arthur Pope, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1974), p. 78-79,cat. 38, ill.

Shirley Glubok, The Art of America in the Early Twentieth Century, The Macmillan Company (New York, NY, 1974), p. 23, ill.

Martin Friedman, Charles Sheeler, Watson-Guptill Publications (New York, NY, 1975), pp. 72, 95, ill. p. 62

Martin Friedman, [Interview with Charles Sheeler], Archives of American Art Journal (1976), vol. 16, no. 4, pp. 15-19, ill. p. 17

[Unidentified article], American Artist (January 1976), ill.

John Wilmerding, "Harvard and American Art", Apollo (June 1978), vol. CVII, no. 196, pp. 490-495, p. 495, fig. 4

Susan Fillin Yeh, "Charles Sheeler's 'Upper Deck' ", Arts Magazine (January 1979), vol. LIII, no. 5, p. 90-94, ill.

Les Realismes: 1919-1939, exh. cat., Centre National d'Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou (Paris, France, 1980), ill. p. 241; checklist, p. 523

Susan Fillin Yeh, "Charles Sheeler and the Machine Age" (Thesis, City University of New York, 1981), University Microfilms, p. ?

Jacques Lassaigne and Pierre Daix, Les Grandes Figures de l'entre-deux-guerres, Skira (Geneva, Switzerland, 1982), vol. 4, p. 72, ill. p. 70

Gladys C. Fabre, Leger et l'esprit moderne, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (Paris, France, 1983), pp. 101-102, fig. 24

Henry M. Sayre, The Visual Text of William Carlos Williams, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL and Chicago, IL, 1983), ill. p. 48

Caroline A. Jones, Modern Art at Harvard: The Formation of the Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Collections of the Harvard University Art Museums (New York, NY and Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Art Museums and Abbeville Press, 1985). With an essay by John Coolidge and a preface by John M. Rosenfield. To accompany the inaugural exhibition at the Sackler Museum, Oct 21 1985 - Jan 5 1986, p. 38, fig. 23

Barbara Haskell, Ralston Crawford, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY, 1985), pp. 51-52, ill. p. 52

Kristin A. Mortimer and William G. Klingelhofer, Harvard University Art Museums: A Guide to the Collections, Harvard University Art Museums and Abbeville Press (Cambridge and New York, 1986), p. 202, cat. 232, ill.

Carol Troyen and Erica E. Hirshler, Charles Sheeler: Paintings and Drawings, exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Boston, MA, 1987), n. 35, pps. 115-116, ill. p. 117

Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr. and Norman Keyes, Jr., Charles Sheeler: The Photographs, exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Boston, MA, 1987), fig. 61, p. 39

"Machine Age", Bijutsu Techo, Bijutsu Shuppan-Sha, Ltd. (Tokyo, Japan, May 1988), ill. p.33

Nathan Goldstein, Design and Composition, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1989), p. 65, fig. 3.10

David Anfam, Abstract Expressionism, Thames and Hudson, Ltd. (London, 1990), p. 26, fig. 15

Donald Goddard, American Painting, Hugh Lauter Levin Associates, Inc. (New York, NY, 1990), reproduced in color p. 200

Karen Lucic, Charles Sheeler and the Cult of the Machine, Reaktion Books (London, England, 1991), no. 34, ill.

Helen Gardner and Horst de la Croix, Gardner's Art Through the Ages, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (San Diego, CA, 1991), p. 1013, no. 22-69, ill.

Edward Lucie-Smith, Art and Civilization, Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (New York, NY, 1992), p. 495, fig. 28.3

Edmund Burke Feldman, Varieties of Visual Experience, Art as Image and Idea, Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (New York, NY, 1992), p. 188

Christos M. Joachimides and Norman Rosenthal, American Art in the 20th Century: Painting and Sculpture 1913-1993, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts and Zeitgeist-Gesellschaft (London, England and Prestel, 1993), no. 51, checklist p. 479, ill.

Gail Stavitsky, Precisionism in America 1915-1941: Reordering Reality, exh. cat., Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (New York, NY, 1994), pp. 23-24, frontispiece

James Cuno, Alvin L. Clark, Jr., Ivan Gaskell, and William W. Robinson, Harvard's Art Museums: 100 Years of Collecting, ed. James Cuno, Harvard University Art Museums and Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (Cambridge, MA, 1996), p. 196, ill. p. 197

Edward Lucie-Smith, Visual Arts in the 20th Century, Laurence King (1996), ill. p. 130, no. 4.25

James M. Dennis, Renegade Regionalists: The Modern Independence of Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton,, University of Wisconsin Press (Madison, WI, 1998), pp.221-222, fig. 133

James H. Maroney Jr., "Charles Sheeler Reveals the Machinery of His Soul", American Art, National Museum of American Art (Washington, D.C., Summer 1999), vol. 13, no. 2, pp. 27-56, p. 35, fig. 6

Seiyo Bijutsukan [The History of Western Art], Shogakukan Inc. (Tokyo, Japan, 1999), p. 1025, ill.

Charles Brock, Charles Sheeler: Across Media, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art and University of California Press (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London, 2006), pp. 81-84, fig. 5

Constance Kimmerle, Elsie Driggs: The Quick and the Classical, University of Pennsylvania Press and James A. Michener Art Museum (Philadelphia, 2008), p. 33, fig. 18

Stephan Wolohojian and Alvin L. Clark, Jr., Harvard Art Museum/ Handbook, ed. Stephan Wolohojian, Harvard Art Museum (Cambridge, 2008), ill. p. 206

Christof Decker, Visuelle Kulturen der USA: Zur Geschichte von Malerei, Fotografie, Film, Fernsehen und Neuen Medien in Amerika, Transcript (Wetzlar, Germany, 2010), p. 64, fig. 16

Teresa A. Carbone, ed., Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties, exh. cat., Brooklyn Museum and Skira Rizzoli (New York, NY, 2011), p. 183, fig. 139

Robert Cozzolino, ed., Peter Blume: Nature and Metamorphosis, exh. cat., Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (Philadelphia, 2014), p. 25, fig. 4, ill. (color)

David Wiesner, David Wiesner and the Art of Wordless Storytelling, exh. cat., Santa Barbara Museum of Art (Santa Barbara, CA, 2016), p. 16, fig. 14, ill. (color)

Kirsten M. Jensen, ed., Charles Sheeler: Fashion, Photography, and Sculptural Form, exh. cat., James A. Michener Art Museum (Doylestown, PA, 2017), pp. 32-33, fig. 2.21, ill. (color)

Daniel Finamore and Ghislaine Wood, ed., Ocean Liners: Glamour, Speed and Style, exh. cat., Victoria and Albert Museum and Peabody Essex Museum (London, 2017), pp. 256-258, fig. 222, ill. (color)

Emma Acker, Cult of the Machine: Precisionism and American Art, exh. cat., Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (San Francisco, CA, 2018), frontispiece, p. 89, cat. no. 14, ill. (color)

Exhibition History

Unidentified Exhibition, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1930, Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York, 01/01/1930 - 12/31/1930

39th Annual Exhibition, Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, 01/01/1932 - 12/31/1932

An Exhibition of Paintings by Charles Burchfield and Charles Sheeler, Society of Arts and Crafts, Detroit, 01/12/1935 - 02/02/1935

Charles Sheeler: Paintings, Drawings, Photographs, Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York, 01/01/1939 - 12/31/1939

Sources of Modern Painting, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Boston, 01/01/1939 - 04/01/1939; Wildenstein Gallery, New York, New York, 04/01/1939 - 05/31/1939

Unidentified Exhibition, School of the Museum of Fine Arts, 1941, School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 01/08/1941 - 01/23/1941

Unidentified Exhibition, Museum of Modern Art, 1944, Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York, 05/01/1944 - 09/30/1944

Unidentified Exhibition, Currier Gallery, 1948, Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, 01/01/1948 - 01/31/1948

Real and Ideal in American Art, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 06/01/1948 - 09/01/1948

The Development of American Painting in the Twentieth Century, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, Boston, 01/20/1949 - 01/31/1949; Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, 02/01/1949 - 02/28/1949; Speed Art Museum, Louisville, 03/01/1949 - 03/31/1949; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, 05/01/1949 - 05/31/1949; Art Association of Montreal, Montreal, 06/01/1949 - 06/30/1949

Revolution and Tradition, Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, 11/01/1951 - 01/31/1952

Charles Sheeler Retrospective, University of California at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, 10/11/1954 - 11/07/1954; Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego, San Diego, 01/14/1955 - 02/11/1955; Fort Worth Art Center, Fort Worth, 02/24/1955 - 03/24/1955; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, 04/07/1955 - 04/30/1955; Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, Utica, 05/08/1955 - 06/08/1955

Americans of Our Times, Ogunquit Museum of American Art, Ogunquit, 07/01/1956 - 09/12/1956

20th Anniversary Exhibition, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, Boston, 01/08/1957 - 02/10/1957

American National Exhibition, Unknown venue, Moscow, Moscow, 07/25/1959 - 09/05/1959; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 10/20/1959 - 11/08/1959

The Precisionist View in American Art, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 11/13/1960 - 12/25/1960

The Quest of Charles Sheeler, University of Iowa, Iowa City, 03/17/1963 - 04/14/1963

200 Years of American Painting, City Art Museum of St. Louis, St. Louis, 04/01/1964 - 05/31/1964

Unidentified Exhibition, Lincoln Laboratory, 1965, Lincoln Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Lexington, 01/01/1965 - 03/31/1965

Festival of the Creative Arts, White House, Washington, 06/14/1965 - 06/14/1965

Unidentified Exhibition, National Gallery of Art, 1965, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 06/15/1965 - 07/11/1965

Fifty Years of Modern Art, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, 06/06/1966 - 07/31/1966

Charles Sheeler Memorial Exhibition, National Collection of Fine Arts, Washington, 10/09/1968 - 11/24/1968; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, 01/09/1969 - 02/16/1969; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 03/10/1969 - 04/27/1969

Forerunners of American Abstraction, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, 11/16/1971 - 01/09/1972

American Art at Harvard, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 04/19/1972 - 06/18/1972

Color in Art: A Tribute to Arthur Pope, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 04/25/1974 - 06/16/1974

Master Paintings from the Fogg Collection, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 04/13/1977 - 08/31/1977

American Modern Art Between the Two World Wars, Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf, 06/01/1979 - 08/31/1979; Kunsthaus Zürich, Zurich, 08/01/1979 - 10/31/1979; Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Brussels, 11/15/1979 - 12/31/1979

Les Realismes, Centre National d'Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou, Paris Cedex 04, 12/17/1980 - 04/20/1981

Modern Art at Harvard, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 10/21/1985 - 01/05/1986

Charles Sheeler, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Boston, 10/13/1987 - 01/03/1988; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 01/28/1988 - 04/17/1988; Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, 05/15/1988 - 07/10/1988

American and British Figurative Art of the Inter-War Years, Harvard University Art Museums, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 06/13/1992 - 12/31/1992

American Art in the Twentieth Century: Painting and Sculpture, Zeitgeist-Gesellschaft, Berlin, 05/08/1993 - 07/25/1993; Royal Academy of Arts, London, 09/17/1993 - 12/12/1993

The Persistence of Memory: Continuity and Change in American Cultures, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 07/29/1995 - 05/13/2001

Modern Art at Harvard, Bunkamura Museum of Art, Tokyo, 07/31/1999 - 09/26/1999; Takamatsu City Museum of Art, Kagawa, 10/09/1999 - 11/14/1999; Matsuzakaya Art Museum, Nagoya, 12/02/1999 - 12/27/1999; Oita City Museum, Oita, 01/06/2000 - 02/06/2000; Museum of Modern Art, Ibaraki, Ibaraki, 02/11/2000 - 03/26/2000

Re-View: S118 European & American Art since 1900, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 09/13/2008 - 04/09/2011

Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, 10/28/2011 - 01/29/2012

32Q: 1300 Early Modernism, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 03/29/2017; Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 10/19/2017 - 02/15/2018; Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 10/18/2018 - 01/01/2050

Ocean Liners: Glamour, Speed, and Style, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, 05/20/2017 - 10/09/2017

The Cult of the Machine, M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, 03/24/2018 - 08/12/2018

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Modern and Contemporary Art at am_moderncontemporary@harvard.edu