NILES SPENCER (1893–1952)
In Fairmont, 1951
Oil on canvas, 65 1/2 x 41 1/2 in.
Signed, dated, and inscribed (at lower right): NILES SPENCER – ©; (on back edge): Niles Spencer ’51 In Fairmont
RECORDED: Contemporary American Painting and Sculpture (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1952), pp. 33 illus., 233 // Mārg: A Magazine of the Arts (India) 10 (1956), pl. 6 illus. // The Art Quarterly 19 (1956), p. 309 // Painting and Sculpture in The Museum of Modern Art (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1958), p. 57 // Edith G. Halpert, “Moscow Greeting; American Art Rouses Lively Response,” New York Times, August 2, 1959, p. X15 // Edwin L. Dale, Jr., “Gray Flannel Bosses: Industrialism and Industrial Man,” The New York Times Book Review, October 1960, p. BR46 illus. // Hilton Kramer, “Art Retrospective for Niles Spencer; Cubism-Derived Urban Scenes at Whitney,” New York Times, February 12, 1966, p. 19 // Samuel M. Green, American Art: A Historical Survey (New York: Ronald Press, 1966), p. 541 // Vicente Gesualdo, ed., Enciclopedia del arte en América: Biografías (Buenos Aires: Bibliográfica OMEBA, 1969), n.p. // Praeger Encyclopedia of Art 5 (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1971), p. 1907
EXHIBITED: University of Illinois, Champaign, 1952, Contemporary American Painting, p. 233 no. 125, pl. 33 illus. // The Downtown Gallery, New York, 1952, Niles Spencer: Paintings, no. 10 illus. on cover // Akron Art Institute, Ohio; Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio; Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; and Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1954, Niles Spencer: A Retrospective Exhibition, no. 31 // Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris, 1955, 50 ans d’art aux États-Unis, p. 37 no. 33, pl. 10 illus. // Kunsthaus, Zürich; Palacio de la Virreina & Museo de Arte Moderno, Barcelona; Haus des Deutschen Kunsthandwerks, Frankfurt; Tate Gallery, London; Geementemuseum, The Hague; Secession Galerie, Vienna; and Kalemegdan Pavilion, Belgrade, 1955–56, Modern Art in the U.S.A., no. 33 // The Downtown Gallery, New York, 1957, New Art in America // Moscow, Russia, 1959, American National Exhibition // Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1959, Paintings and Sculpture from the American National Exhibition in Moscow // University of Kentucky Art Gallery, Lexington; Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, Utica, New York; Portland Museum of Art, Maine; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Allentown Art Museum, Pennsylvania; Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire; Rhode Island School of Design, Providence; and Guild Hall, Easthampton, New York, 1965–66, Niles Spencer, p. 36 no. 120, illus. in color on cover // Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1966, Art of the United States, 1670–1966, p. 154 no. 262 // The Katonah Gallery, Katonah, New York, 1976, The American Scene and New Formations of Modernism, 1935–1954, no. 63 illus. // Whitney Museum of American Art at the Equitable Center, New York, 1990, Niles Spencer, p. 15
EX COLL.: the artist; to [The Downtown Gallery, New York]; to Edward Joseph Gallagher, Jr.; by gift to The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1956–2012; to sale, Sotheby’s, New York, May 17, 2012, no. 33; to [Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, 2012]; to private collection, 2012 until the present
In Fairmont is a major late canvas by Spencer and one of the greatest works in his oeuvre. Perhaps the largest canvas Spencer ever completed, and painted at the height of his artistic maturity, In Fairmont is based on large ventilator and glass works in Fairmont, West Virginia. Fairmont, which is located about 90 miles south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was a major glass center, with a number of glass-manufacturing companies building their factories along the shore of the Monongahela River. In heroic scale, Spencer deconstructs the industrial forms into geometric shapes and orders them into a highly refined composition. As Spencer’s career progressed, his style drifted away from the abstraction seen in City Walls to a more realistic, but still highly sophisticated Precisionist portrayal of urban and vernacular architecture, all the while retaining the muted palette and dry application of paint that characterized virtually all of the work of his mature career. By the mid-1940s, however, Spencer once again edged toward abstraction, leaving behind the realistic modeling of his previous works and focusing instead on hard-edged regions of largely unmodulated color. If Spencer’s paintings were becoming more simplified and abstract, they were also becoming ever larger and more heroically scaled.
In Fairmont is an iconic work in Spencer’s oeuvre and has been included in a variety of important exhibitions in America and Europe. It was shown at the landmark exhibition Contemporary American Painting held at the University of Illinois, Champaign, in 1952. In Fairmont was included one of the two shows of Spencer’s work at the Downtown Gallery later that year, and it was also included aforementioned traveling show organized by the Museum of Modern Art in 1954. The painting also has appeared in the two major retrospectives of Spencer’s work since that time: a traveling show sponsored by the University of Kentucky Art Gallery in 1965–66, with In Fairmont being illustrated in color on the cover of the catalogue, and Niles Spencer, a show at the Whitney Museum of American Art at the Equitable Center, New York, in 1990. In Fairmont was purchased from the Downtown Gallery by the important collector Edward Joseph Gallagher, Jr., who presented it as a gift to the Museum of Modern Art in 1956. The painting remained in the Museum’s collection until 2012.