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Take One Picture 2020

Issued August 2020

16 November 2020 – 31 January 2021
Sunley Room
Admission free

This autumn, the National Gallery will showcase artworks by primary school children from across the UK in the 25th annual 'Take One Picture' exhibition.

Each year the Gallery invites primary schools nationwide to focus on one of its paintings and respond creatively to its themes and subject matter, historical context, or composition. With the aim of promoting the visual arts across the curriculum and inspiring a lifelong love of art, this year the National Gallery has selected Men of the Docks (1912) by George Bellows as the source of inspiration.

George Bellows’s 'Men of the Docks' depicts a wintry river landscape in New York. The viewer, positioned on the waterfront of the East River, looks across the partly frozen river from Brooklyn towards the tall buildings of Lower Manhattan. The warehouse in shadow on the left and the massive hull of an ocean liner on the right form two powerful diagonals that meet at the Manhattan skyline, which rises from the water like a cliff face. A group of longshoremen stand with their shoulders hunched to keep the cold at bay, waiting to unload the liner behind them.

The painting was chosen for the wide range of themes and subjects that are explored: cityscapes and skyscrapers, immigration and opportunity, the riverfront as a place of work, horses as working animals and social commentary on 20th-century New York.

Although Bellows has painted the men in some detail, their faces and bodies are reduced to essentials. Some are close to being caricatures: the brute physical presence of the largest man on the right, for example, becomes a human version of the powerful dray horses behind him. The rough application of paint perhaps reflects an emphasis on the physicality of their work. In contrast to the huddled group, the lone figure in the shadows to the far left is turning away and appears to be leaving, perhaps after having been told he has been refused work and will need to find another means of earning a day’s keep. By placing the men against the Manhattan skyline, Bellows ironically contrasts the dynamic centre of modern capitalism with the harsh reality of the people whose labour kept it functioning.

Ranging from model ships and towering skyscrapers to family interviews and letters home, the exhibition will feature a range of works reflecting the richness of creative responses to Bellows’s painting.

Year 5 students from Mab’s Cross Community Primary School, Lancashire, focused on the lives of the dock workers, who were often immigrants who had travelled to America in the hope of finding work and living a better life. They each imagined someone who had made this journey and wrote moving letters to family and friends back home. The letters and envelopes were created from coffee-stained papers and personalised with handmade stamps and postmarks.

‘I enjoyed making the origami envelopes (I’ve made loads since) and making the back story to the person writing the letter,’ said a student aged 10.

Reception students from Darrick Wood Infant and Nursery School, Kent, created their own version of 'Men of the Docks' based on London. Through their project, they explored the properties of different materials including conducting experiments around floating, sinking and melting ice. They also made boats from tinfoil and skyscrapers from paper and card. To understand more about the work that the men did on the docks, the children put on protective clothing and transported wooden crates around in the playground.

‘I really like the picture because we get to do lots of fun things and learn about the dock workers,’ said a student aged 5.

Year 4 students from Downshall Primary School, Essex, were drawn to the horses in the painting and wanted to learn more about working animals. Their teachers organised a visit from the mounted police to give children the opportunity to meet their horses and learn about their role and how they are cared for. They were also visited by a local man who talked to them about the important relationship he has with his guide dog. Each class created a painting based on these visits.

‘Care needs to be taken so the horses don’t get bad backs. The horses get back massages,’ said a student aged 9.

Karen Eslea, Head of Learning and National Programmes at the National Gallery, said, ‘The young artists involved in 'Take One Picture' are hugely inspiring, and can help us all to reflect on the National Gallery’s collection to unlock ideas and themes that are relevant to our lives today.’

Take One Picture is generously supported by Columbia Threadneedle Foundation

The Sunley Room exhibition programme is supported by the Bernard Sunley Foundation.


Image: George Bellows, 'Men of the Docks', 1912 © The National Gallery, London

About Take One Picture

Launched in 1995, Take One Picture is the National Gallery’s countrywide scheme for primary schools. Each year the Gallery focuses on one painting from the collection to inspire cross-curricular work in primary classrooms. After a one-day Continuing Professional Development (CPD) course at the Gallery, teachers are given a print of the focus painting, a soundscape and a variety of other resources to support classroom learning. The challenge is then for schools to use the image imaginatively, both as a stimulus for artwork, and to make links across the curriculum.

Each year a selection of work produced by schools based on the painting is shown at the National Gallery and published on the website . In order to be considered for the display, schools submit examples of how a whole class or school has used the picture to inspire projects that are child-led and, cross-curricular and through, in which children have learnt a new process, and involved members of the local community.

Further information about the programme, related CPD courses for teachers, and the annual Take One Picture exhibition at the National Gallery can be found at

About George Bellows

Born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1882, Bellows studied at the Ohio State University. He moved to New York City in 1904 to study art with Robert Henri and the group of enthusiastic young painters around him, known as the Ashcan School, who found rich subject matter in the booming metropolis. From 1907, Bellows focussed on New York City, depicting working-class subjects in an expressive style; his painting of fighting boxers remain among Bellows’s most famous works. Bellows played a key role in the organisation of the legendary Armory Show of 1913, which introduced the American public to masterworks by French Impressionists, Post-Impressionist, and Cubist painters, as well as to works by American contemporary artists. The atrocities of the First World War had a traumatic impact on Bellows, who in 1918 undertook a series of lithographs and monumental canvasses on this theme. He died in 1925 at the age of 42.

About Columbia Threadneedle Investments

Columbia Threadneedle Investments is a leading global asset manager that provides a broad range of actively managed investment strategies and solutions for individual, institutional and corporate clients around the world. With more than 2000 people including over 450 investment professionals based in North America, Europe and Asia, it manages £373bn of assets (at 31 Dec 2019) across developed and emerging market equities, fixed income, asset allocation solutions and alternatives.

Columbia Threadneedle Foundation is committed to investing in the community through partnerships that create positive social impact. It focuses on charities that use education, art and sport to engender lasting social change. Common threads in its programmes and charity partners include the ability to build skills and confidence, challenge perspectives, and broaden horizons.

The schools represented in the 2020 display are:

Beecroft Garden Primary School, London
Caroline Chisholm School, Northampton
Cleveland Road Primary School, Essex
Darrick Wood Infant and Nursery School, Kent
Downshall Primary School, Essex
George Betts Primary Academy, West Midlands
Glendower Preparatory School, London
Grange Park School, Kent
Gunthorpe Primary School, Peterborough
Headlands Primary School, Northampton
Hill Top CE Primary School and Nursery, Bradford
Holy Trinity CE Primary School, London
Ide Primary School, Exeter
Kenmont Primary School, London
Kingsway Community Primary School, Warwickshire
Kingsway Junior School, Hertfordshire
Kingswood Parks Primary School, Hull
Little Hallingbury C of E Primary School, Essex
Mab's Cross Community Primary School, Lancashire
Oakwood School, Surrey
Parkhill Junior School, London
Preston Park Primary School, London
Ramsgate Art Primary School, Kent
Rectory Farm Primary School, Northampton
Redlands Nursery and Primary School, Nottinghamshire
RGS The Grange, Worcester
Rhodes Avenue Primary School, London
Sir John Sherbrooke Junior School, Nottingham
SS Peter and Paul RC Primary School, Tyne and Wear
St Martin de Porres Catholic Primary School, Luton
St Mary's School Hampstead, London
Stivichall Primary School, Coventry
Stoke Bishop C of E Primary School, Bristol
The Priory C of E Primary School, London
Tudor C of E Primary School, Suffolk
Wellington Prep School, Somerset
West London Free School Primary, London


National Gallery Press Office on 020 7747 2865 or email

Publicity images can be obtained from