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Waterfront Scene

1934 Pino Janni Born: Venice, Italy 1899 oil on canvas 40 1/8 x 53 3/4 in. (101.8 x 136.6 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor 1964.1.5 Not currently on view

Exhibition Label

Pino Janni's depiction of New York City's East River docks is all about hard work. The viewer looks over the shoulders of two burly longshoremen about to unload or load freight from a cargo ship. Towering cranes and booms are ready to lift the heaviest cargo ashore. A nearby tug boat works with ship pilots to guide the enormous vessels to and from the piers. The hawser looped around a bollard shows that a ship is tied up just out of view, bringing employment to these men. During the Depression dockworkers were desperate for scarce jobs, despite their low hourly wages. In January 1934, at the time when Janni was making this painting, a fight broke out among hundreds of longshoremen competing for work.

The red band around the tug's funnel is the only note of bright color in this work-a-day painting. Heavy black outlines define the powerful forms of the men and the harbor. Janni's painting of the noisy, dirty waterfront is as vigorous and straightforward as the longshoremen's labor. The artist could identify with his subjects; as an article about the PWAP stated, "the administration has determined that work must be found for artists as well as for longshoremen."

1934: A New Deal for Artists exhibition label


Architecture - machine - crane

Cityscape - wharf

Figure group - male

Occupation - industry - shipping

Waterscape - boat

New Deal - Public Works of Art Project - New York City


paint - oil

fabric - canvas