Ralston Crawford American, 1906-1978


Ralston Crawford is best known for his Precisionist abstract paintings suggestive of urban landscapes and industrial spaces. Influenced by Charles Sheeler and Charles Demuth, Crawford painted industrial architecture, meandering lines, and fractured forms evoking either machine or the body, all in colorful compositions. In 1946, he was famously commissioned by Fortune magazine to document the atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll in a series of abstract, angular paintings. Crawford was also an accomplished printmaker and urban documentary photographer.


This work is a sketch for Ralston Crawford’s Overseas Highway, now held in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collections in Madrid, Spain. It depicts the "industrial sublime" of a clear vista along US Route 1 somewhere between Key West, Florida and the US/Canada border (1). The tonal landscape of Overseas Highway Sketch pulls the viewer in toward its small vanishing point. Marjorie B. Searl describes its "illusionistic pull... into deep space" (2).

The artist recalled: "I can remember my work on that painting, it was almost like writing... I drew it, as I frequently do" (3). The meticulous composition of this sketch displays the artist's signature precisionist style, while the notes and measurements allow a rare a glimpse into the artist’s working process.

1. William C. Agee, Masterpieces of American modernism: from the Vilcek Collection (London & New York: Merrell Publishers Limited, 2013), 224.
2. Marjorie B. Searl, "Ralston Crawford Whitestone Bridge (1939-40)," in Seeing America: Painting and Sculpture from the Collection of the Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester (Rochester: University of Rochester, 2006), 241.
3. Gail Levin et al., Twentieth-century American painting: the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection (London: Bloomsbury, 1987), 72.