Ironworkers' Noontime

Posted by Ellen

In 1881, this painting earned Thomas Anshutz an award from the local arts establishment, as embodied then by the Philadelphia Sketch Club. The Sketch Club honored Ironworkers' Noontime as the year's "best carefully finished study." According to the minutes from the meeting at which the award was presented, Sketch Club members talked at length about how well Anshutz had learned the style of painting taught by his teacher, club founder Thomas Eakins, and they also talked at length about the painting's extremely unusual subject matter.

It's the subject matter that distinguishes the painting today; it's believed to be the earliest American artwork depicting industrial life. Anshutz had been born and raised along the Ohio River near the foundries of Wheeling, West Virginia, where he did the sketches for the painting. He presented the ironworkers as individuals, each using his noon break for his own purposes, despite the overall grime and grit of the surroundings.

The artists in the Sketch Club thought this approach was "needlessly confrontational."


Wheeling's ironworks are now defunct, and the city has been in decline since the 1930s. The old foundry sites along the riverfront are currently promoted for "heritage tourism activities."