View largeDownload slide Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, CA, USA/Bridgeman Images View largeDownload slide Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, CA, USA/Bridgeman Images This 43 × 61 cm oil on canvas painting by Thomas Pollock Anshutz (1851–1912) hangs in the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. It portrays ironworkers at the Belmont Nail Works in Wheeling, West Virginia in 1880 . The industrial scene and the blast furnace seen in the upper left of the painting bear witness to the American industrial revolution which accelerated following the end of the Civil War in 1865, the blast furnace being built in 1872 . Realism, i.e. painting subjects from everyday life and especially working-class life, became popular in the mid-19th century. It was unusual to paint industrial scenes—in 1880, almost half of American workers were farmers and only one in seven worked in manufacturing . In 1879, Anshutz painted the realistic works A Farmer and His Son at Harvesting and The Cabbage Patch based on sketches he made during regular summer trips to Wheeling . The following summer he made sketches of individual ironworkers in classical life-drawing poses, which he assembled into The Ironworkers’ Noontime painted in the studio . That summer he also took photographs as preparatory studies for paintings, as evidenced by a dated photograph of Boys with a Boat, Ohio River near Wheeling, West Virginia in the archives of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. That photograph was clearly the basis of his 1896 post-impressionist painting Steamboat on the Ohio. Paintings of ironworkers by contemporaries, e.g. The Gun Foundry and Forging the Shaft by John Ferguson Weir (1841–1926), were romantic in style portraying ironworkers as masters of the furnace or ‘Sons of Vulcan’  to use the name of their trade union of that period. Anshutz created a new image of American factory life, one mundane and without melodrama to focus on the workers as individuals . He and his teacher Charles Eakins (1844–1916) were early adopters of photography. This may have influenced them to pioneer naturalism, which incorporated realism of subjects going about their normal activities and added a true-to life or quasi-photographic style. Hence the ironworkers are depicted during their midday break, rather than at work, and as if captured with a candid camera. Since naturalism evolved during the industrial revolution artists often focussed on factory working conditions, social ills created by industrialization and the loss of traditional agricultural society . While the painting reveals harsh realities with black smoke polluting the air and child labour, it also reveals that the mill owners considered the welfare of their workers affording them outdoor rest breaks to stretch, massage stiff shoulders and wash. This led to 20th century interpretations of the painting as representing evolving labour conditions and celebrating relations between American workers and employers . While water was made available through the pump operated by one of the boy workers the town’s water was ‘frequently dirty and unwholesome’  since Wheeling Waterworks pumped water from the Ohio river and was built in 1834 decades before filtration became normal practice. It is not evident from the painting but this was a turbulent period. Dangerous working conditions, long hours and concern over wages and child labour contributed to the growth of trade unions and regular strikes. The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 began in West Virginia . As the 1884 presidential election approached both Republicans and Democrats courted the labour vote by favouring the creation of a Bureau of Labor to collect information about working people and the ‘means of promoting their material, social, intellectual, and moral prosperity’ . That body exists today as the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Anshutz was born in Newport, Kentucky and moved to his mother’s hometown of Wheeling at the age of 12 years, returning annually throughout his adult life . His father’s family had owned and operated iron mills earlier in the century . Initially studying art in New York he moved to Philadelphia in 1875 attending life classes taught by Eakins. In 1876, they both joined the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; Eakins as chief demonstrator of anatomy and Anshutz as his assistant and then successor. The Ironworkers’ Noontime was first exhibited in 1881, yet despite acclaim Anshutz was unable to sell his painting until 1883. It was bought by an industrialist who knew the editor of Harpers Weekly and who published a steel engraving of the painting in an 1884 edition giving it wide circulation . As well as being a painter and photographer Anshutz was an art instructor who taught an impressive roll of artists, many of whom went on to be at the forefront of modernism in American art. The painting so symbolizes the naturalistic style that it adorns the front cover of several books, including one accompanying an exhibition in the van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in 2010 . Ironically a week before the painting was exhibited, the last Wheeling cut nail factory closed . Once nicknamed ‘Nail City’ Wheeling became a major centre for iron production after the Civil War . Now, that part of West Virginia and Kentucky are within the ‘rust belt’ once the industrial heartland of America and which has experienced de-industrialization, economic decline, population loss and urban degeneration. References 1. Weisberg GP , Becker E , de Haan M , et al. Illusions of Reality: Naturalist Painting, Photography, Theatre and Cinema, 1875–1918 . Brussels, Belgium : Mercatorfonds , 2010 . 2. The Belmont Nail Works . The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer , 14 September 1886 . 3. Hirschman C , Mogford E . Immigration and the American industrial revolution from 1880 to 1920 . Soc Sci Res 2009 ; 38 : 897 – 920 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed 4. Griffin RC . Thomas Anshutz’s ‘The Ironworkers’ Noontime’: remythologizing the industrial worker . Smithsonian Studies in American Art 1990 ; 4 : 128 – 143 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS 5. Weinberg HB . Cosmopolitan and candid stories 1877–1915 . In: Weinberg HB , Barratt CR , eds. American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life, 1765–1915 . New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art New York, 2009; 112 – 182 . 6. Wingerter CA. History of Greater Wheeling and Vicinity, a Chronical of Progress and a Narrative Account of the Industries, Institutions and People of the City and Tributary Territory . Chicago, IL : Lewis Publishing Co , 1912 . 7. The Industrial Revolution in the United States . Washington, DC: Library of Congress , 2015 . 8. Grossman J . The origin of the US Department of Labor . The Monthly Labor Review, US Department of Labor 1973 ; 96 : 3 – 8 . 9. Trevino D . Gilded age art and literature . In: Hillstrom K , Hillstrom LC , eds. The Industrial Revolution in America: Iron and Steel . Santa Barbara, CA : ABC CLIO , 2005 ; 241 – 268 . 10. White L . Iron and steel industry of Wheeling . West Virginia Economic Geography 1932 ; 8 : 274 – 281 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society of Occupational Medicine. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: email@example.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Occupational Medicine – Oxford University Press
Published: May 17, 2018
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