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David Smith


David Smith, Hudson River Landscape, 1951. Welded painted steel and stainless steel, 49 15/16 × 73 3/4 × 16 9/16 in. (126.8 × 187.3 × 42.1 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase  54.14
Art © Estate of David Smith / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
David Smith was a pioneer of modern sculpture. He used industrial materials and processes to make large sculptures that were inspired by the overlapping shapes and abstract forms of European art movements such as Cubism. As the first American sculptor to experiment with welded metal, Smith opened new possibilities for sculpture in postwar America. Smith’s sculptures may seem abstract, but they often suggest movement, feelings, and forms such as the human body, architecture, or landscapes. Although he is best known for his sculpture, Smith also produced paintings, drawings, and photographs and experimented with collage.
David Smith, Eng No. 6, 1952  79.43


When David Smith was a kid, his grandmother gave him a Bible illustrated with images of Egyptian, Sumerian, and other ancient art. Smith kept this Bible with him in his studio throughout his career. A trip to the British Museum in London when he was an adult reawakened his interest in Egyptian art, Greek coins, and Sumerian cylinder seals. If you look closely, you can see references to these ancient arts in Smith’s sculpture. Smith’s notebooks show that he was inspired by sources as diverse as Life magazine photographs, fossilized fish, and objects from Egyptian tombs.


While working at a car factory during the summer of 1925, Smith learned welding, a manufacturing process used to join pieces of metal together. He did not realize he could also use this skill to make art until he saw images of welded sculptures by artists Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) and Julio González (1876–1942) in 1932.

About the artist
David Smith was born in Decatur, Indiana, in 1906. During high school, Smith took drawing courses by correspondence through the Cleveland Art School. From 1924 to 1925, he studied art at Ohio University. He moved to New York City in 1926 and studied painting at the Art Students League. His teacher, Czech painter Jan Matulka (1890–1972), encouraged Smith’s interest in Cubism and geometric forms. In New York, Smith also became friends with artists such as Arshile Gorky (1904–1948) and Willem de Kooning (1904–1997).

“If you ask me why I make sculpture, I answer that it is my way of life, my balance, and my justification for being.”

—David Smith

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