Men of the Docks - George Bellows (1912)
Size 114.3 cm x 161.3 cm
Medium - Oil on canvas
It is a bleak winter's day down on the frozen waterfront of the East River in Brooklyn. The men huddle, their hands thrust into their pockets and their jacket collars turned up against the bitter chill. It has been a long, cold wait for these day laborers. They are anxious to hear if they will be offered work, loading and unloading cargo from the docked ocean liner. Work is low paid and uncertain.
Men of the Docks is a 114.3 x 161.3 cm oil painting on canvas. It is seen as a painting which presents the situation of solidity the way a normal man would see it holding onto the scene through reality.
Upon closer observation, you will see their faces are just a few lines of paint. Their body language -hunched shoulders, hands in pockets and the anxious glance over a shoulder conveys their mood. It may be that they are waiting for an announcement, a call of names for those to be employed on the day. A man, to the left of the painting appears to be leaving, probably having been told he is not chosen. His head bowed, the artist portrays a sense of rejection.
Across the river is the skyline of lower Manhattan, which represents the beating heart of modern capitalism. Yet observing from across the Brooklyn bridge, Manhattan seems distant, cold and separated. In New York, some of the world's wealthiest individuals rubbed shoulders with the very poor. While companies competed to build the tallest and most dazzling skyscrapers, the immigrants and working-class Americans who helped construct the city, lived in crowded tenements and slum conditions.
The painting was created in the same year the Titanic sank to the bottom of the ocean. The large steam powered ocean liner portrayed in the painting would have had luxury accommodation for the rich, while the lower class travelers had separate accommodation below deck. The painting prompts the audience to think of the social disparities of the present times.
George Bellows is an American realist painter known for his bold depictions of urban life in New York City. He was part of the Ashcan School, which was an artistic movement in the United States during the early 20th century. He is best known for portraying scenes of daily life in New York, often in the city's most impoverished neighborhoods. The movement has been seen as symbolic of the spirit of political rebellion of the period.