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George Bellows, 'Men of the Docks', 1912

Key facts
Full title Men of the Docks
Artist George Bellows
Artist dates 1882 - 1925
Date made 1912
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 114.3 × 161.3 cm
Acquisition credit Bought with a grant from the American Friends of the National Gallery, made possible by Sir Paul Getty’s fund, and by a donation from Mark Getty KBE, 2014
Inventory number NG6649
Location Room 41
Collection Main Collection
Men of the Docks
George Bellows

Positioned on the waterfront of the East River, we are looking across the partly frozen river 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 sunlit Manhattan skyline, which rises from the water like a cliff face.

Seen from a relatively low vantage point, the warehouse, liner and skyline form three sides of a box, the fourth wall of which is formed in part by the group of longshoremen, who are most likely waiting to unload the liner. 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.

When bought by the National Gallery in 2014, this was the first major American painting to enter the collection.

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