In the Town

Accession Number

In the Town

Niles Spencer

Object Creation Date

Medium & Support
oil on canvas

30 1/4 x 40 1/4 in. (76.8 x 102.1 cm);36 13/16 x 46 1/2 in. (93.35 x 118.11 cm)

Credit Line
Gift of The Ann Arbor Art Association, in memory of Ruby S. Churchhill

Label copy
Niles Spencer was a central figure in the Precisionist school of painters of the 1920s–40s. The intent of these artists was to forge a new national art through naturalistic depictions of typical American scenes with a distinctly modern aesthetic: the fundamental structures of things are simplified almost to the point of abstraction. In the process, quotidian life, such as the industrial scene here, is reduced to hard outlines and solid shadows which instill a heroic and almost mythical gravity to the scene.

The flat, eerily empty atmosphere and monumentality of "In the Town" are hallmarks of Spencer’s work. The buildings and small factories of Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, and Long Island shore towns were his preferred subjects. Given the date of this canvas, however, the dehumanized, barren landscape may be less a Precisionist statement than a sad reflection on the collapse of American industrial prowess and energy in the face of the economic misery of the Great Depression.
(A. Dixon, 20th Century Gallery installation, June 1999)

Primary Object Classification

Primary Object Type

Collection Area
Modern and Contemporary

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modern and contemporary art

2 Related Resources

(Part of 6 Learning Collections)
Social realism, mid-19th century to mid-20th century
(Part of 8 Learning Collections)

& Author Notes

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