History And Context
During the 1920s, Niles Spencer divided his time between Europe and his home in Provincetown, Massachusetts, a small town at the extreme tip of the Cape Cod peninsula known for its eclectic mix of writers, painters, and fishermen. In Europe, Spencer was drawn to the art of the Italian Renaissance, as well as European modernism, especially cubism.
Simplicity was the hallmark of Spencer’s style. Because he distilled his images into precise forms, he is often associated with the precisionist painters, but his work is more emotional and less hard-edged than that of Charles Sheeler and others who worked in that style. Spencer’s work came to maturity in the 1920s, a period when Duncan Phillips most preferred his paintings. In 1927, Phillips bought The Dormer Window, a painting that was titled Still Life on the bill of sale.
The Dormer Window probably depicts the interior of Spencer’s Provincetown home, which sat up on a hill from the harbor with a grand vista, a common subject for the artist. The atmospheric light and subtle tonalities depicted show off Spencer’s talents and abilities as a painter, masterfully blending the precise lines of cubism with the color palette and brushwork of more classic art. An avid reader, he included his books in almost every still life as a spatial device as well as a telling autobiographical note. Spencer was very introspective and this painting offers a glimpse into the artist’s private world.