Please note: this review is for a painting, not a book.
I don’t know if I’m pleased or disturbed to find that I know the collection of the National Gallery in London so well I can immediately spot a new acquisition. Men of the Docks had been in place literally two days when I discovered it. Apparently it is the National Gallery’s first major piece of American art!
There it is among the Monets and Pissarros: George Bellows’ view of Brooklyn terminal with 1912′s equivalent of zero-hours contract workers waiting for a job, Manhattan in the background and dominating the scene, an enormous Transatlantic passenger liner.
It’s a scene with a lot of personal resonances for me. Chapter 7 of the book I’m working on uses my own arrival at the same terminal in just such a ship as well as the history of several family members arriving at around the date of the painting. It even fits in quite well with all the Jules Verne I’m reading at the moment, despite being dated a bit later.
It means a lot to me to have this painting where I can see it regularly but I think it’s an excellent piece even without the personal connections. I love the loose painting style, the red and petrol blue color scheme and the composition in which the monumental size of the ship stands out and the sky isn’t allowed much of a role (I just like that). I like the fact that although it’s beautiful, the subject matter evokes the harsh reality of many of the immigrants on the ship and the casual labor force they were destined to join. It fits very well among the Monets et al., but British viewers might also like to compare it to the work of our own painters of industrial and working class life.