Irene Rice Pereira
Machine Composition, 1935
Oil on canvas
34 x 42 inches
Signed lower right
Irene M. Rice was born in 1902 in Chelsea, Massachusetts, the daughter of an eccentric baker and a Bostonian mother. The family moved around during her childhood and accounts of the artist’s early life are not well known. Pereira (the surname of her first husband) moved to Brooklyn, New York as a teenager where she was quickly thrust into maturity after her father’s sudden death. She took vocational courses in high school in order to supplement the family’s income. Following high school, Pereira immersed herself in the bohemian culture of Greenwich Village, taking courses in fashion design, art, and literature. From 1927 through 1931, she enrolled in night classes at the Art Students League, where she studied with Jan Matulka, the influential educator who introduced his students to theories of the European avant-garde, particularly Cubism and Constructivism. To complete her artistic education, Pereira traveled to Europe and Africa for a year, where she developed a greater interest in French Cubism.
Between 1932 and 1938, Pereira produced a series of semi-abstract compositions of machine and nautical subjects. Like many artists and designers of the Machine Age, as the era was colloquially known, Pereira was fascinated with the country’s expanding mechanization. She embraced the beauty of industrialized objects, in their streamlined forms and geometric simplicity. Anchors, smokestacks, ventilators, pendulums, generators, and occasional human forms figured prominently in her dynamic paintings.
Throughout the decade, her style progressed from straightforward still life compositions of machine parts and tools, to complex Cubistic arrangements of the machine, as in the present work, Machine Composition, 1935. This painting and others from the mid-1930s convey an exuberance in the industrial objects. Bold, overlapping metal objects are painted in cool grey tones, and juxtaposed against the stark black and red hues. The composite grouping relates in form and style to other significant works held in museum collections, including Boat Composite, 1932, Machine Composition #2, 1937, and The Pendulum, 1937.