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Every once in a while my meanderings on the internet amount to something beyond a mere waste of time. Today, I discovered an American Precisionist painter named Niles Spencer (1893 – 1952), a contemporary of Charles Sheeler and Charles Demuth. Spencer is so obscure outside the museum/gallery community that he doesn’t even have his own Wikipedia entry. You can find a brief biography of Spencer here.

Precisionism concerned itself with the geometry of urban and industrial landscapes and this is a subject I find myself drawn to all the time. Spencer’s work, at least that which I can locate, differs from other Precisionists in that it seems more abstract to me, emphasizing form in an almost Cubist manner. People don’t figure very prominently in Spencer’s work, not even as a suggestion. Even his still lifes  looked like an industrial skyline.

The Watch Factory (Niles Spencer, 1952)

Spencer’s The Watch Factory is his most well-known, or maybe least obscure image. It is stark and cold, bordering on unrecognizable as a human-made structure. It contrasts sharply with his early paintings, like Oguinquit, Maine. painted in 1919, which has more of an Impressionist feel to it.

Oguinquit, Maine (Niles Spencer, 1919)

Spencer was apparently much admired by critics and other artists but never achieved the success and notoriety enjoyed by other Precisionists. The sources I’ve found attribute this to his personality; he was far from gregarious and not much into self-promotion. Despite his status as an art-historical footnote, his work can be found in a number of major American museums, including The Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, the Phillips Collection, and numerous small museums scattered across the country. His work represents an important and lasting perspective on the American landscape and deserves a little more attention.

The Silver Tanks (Niles Spencer, 1949)


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