A figure ascending a staircase in an all white interior.

George C. Ault

American, 1891–1948

The Stairway, 1921

Oil on canvas

18 1⁄4 × 14 1⁄4 inches

Signed and dated lower left

George Ault embraced the Precisionist style that he learned of through the works of Charles Sheeler and Ralston Crawford. The subjects of his works from this period were geometric cityscapes observed from his studio window and the rumbling factory buildings that increasingly populated the congested city. He reduced the buildings and skyline of the city into basic shapes with at areas of color, hallmark characteristics of the Precisionist style. However, he developed his own unique style by also combining elements of Surrealism into his paintings. The Stairway captures, in a single moment, the “almost” that shadows human experience. Ault is playing with the concept of “objective chance,” a key element of surrealist practice in which serendipitous encounters of incongruous everyday objects produce a sudden insight. Instead of objects, Ault juxtaposes figures in an everyday scenario in order to visualize what will not serendipitously happen.

A figure ascending a staircase in an all white interior.