Men of the Docks by George Bellows at the National Gallery in London

In this episode, we’ll be taking a closer look at Men of the Docks by George Bellows at the National Gallery in London. Welcome to Art, Culture & Books with me, Anthony King.

Men of the Docks by George Bellows was painted in 1912. I remember when the painting was sold to the National Gallery in 2014 for $25.5 million and many times afterward going to see it… it took a while to grow on me… but it eventually did. It must be worth 2 – 3 times that valuation now. Men of the Docks stands 114 by 161 centimetre and is an oil painting on canvas.

Placed alongside the East River, the piece offers a perspective across the partly frozen water to the towering structures of Lower Manhattan. Noteworthy elements include a shaded warehouse on the left and the substantial hull of an ocean liner on the right, forming two impactful diagonals converging at the sunlit Manhattan skyline. Viewed from a lower angle, the warehouse, liner, and skyline shape three sides of a visual box, with the fourth side partially defined by a group of port workers, presumably awaiting the unloading of the liner. The placement of these workers against the backdrop of the Manhattan skyline introduces an ironic contrast, juxtaposing the vibrant core of modern capitalism with the stark reality of those supporting it.

George Wesley Bellows, born in August 1882 in Columbus, Ohio, and died January 8th, 1925, left a significant mark as an American realist painter. Acknowledged by the Columbus Museum of Art as “the most acclaimed American artist of his generation,” Bellows depicted urban life in New York City with boldness. His scenes captured the rawness and disorder of working-class existence, offering a satirical lens on the upper classes. A commentator for The Craftsman praised “Men of the Docks” as being “free of affectation of soul or technique,” presenting a scenario with a grounded solidity, maintaining a connection to reality from an everyday perspective.