Sheeler painted Rolling Poweras part of a series on industrial power commissioned by Fortune magazine. Rather than showing the entire engine or train, the painting instead depicts two drive wheels, a bogie wheel, and engine parts of a Hudson-type New York Central locomotive designed by Henry Dreyfuss. In 1939 it was the most efficient and powerful railroad engine available. Sheeler painted it in pristine condition in a palette of browns and grays, almost as a frieze in low relief. The only suggestion of movement is a puff of steam at the right, whose vapor trail points toward Sheeler’s signature on the rail below.
A noted photographer as well as a painter, Sheeler used photographs as aids in painting Rolling Power and other works in the Power series. The related photograph Wheels, also in the Museum’s collection, is basically the same composition and format as the painting, but the photograph on which Rolling Power was based no longer exists.
Oil on canvas
Purchased with the Drayton Hillyer Fund
ID Number: SC 1940:18