(American; b. Durham, England, 1831–d. New York City, 1913)
The Longshoremen’s Noon
33 1/16 x 50 1/8 in. (84 x 127.3 cm), Image size: 32 5/8 x 49 3/4 in. (82.9 x 126.3 cm)
Museum Purchase, Gallery Fund
Poised before a backdrop of plump bales of cotton, these men who labor “along shore” are depicted on their noontime break in various states of repose. The prominent position of the New York Sun in the center foreground suggests that the men’s conversation likely concerned current events, perhaps even their own working conditions. In the late 1870s, a period of significant labor unrest, an image of dockworkers assembling to discuss pressing issues of the day might have intimidated American audiences. Yet Brown’s aestheticized treatment of the subject likely diffused any such threat. Critics regularly commented on the “spick and span newness and cleanliness” of his figures, calling those in The Longshoremen’s Noon “preternaturally and decorously fresh.” Ultimately, Brown’s painting is more a study of character and community than an exploration of the often harsh realities of life on the docks.