Coal Tower

Media - 1964.1.4 - SAAM-1964.1.4_2 - 133472
Copied Max Arthur Cohn, Coal Tower, ca. 1934, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor, 1964.1.4

Artwork Details

Coal Tower
ca. 1934
Not on view
22 1828 in. (56.271.2 cm.)
Credit Line
Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor
Mediums Description
oil on canvas
  • New Deal — Public Works of Art Project — New York City
  • Landscape — time — night
  • Architecture — industry — factory
  • Figure group
  • Cityscape — New York — New York
  • Architecture — machine
  • Architecture — boat — barge
  • Cityscape — wharf
  • Figure group — male
Object Number

Artwork Description

The London-born artist Max Cohn often painted New York industrial scenes like this one, showing the men and machines that kept the great city working. In this painting the viewer looks up from a pier at the dark silhouette of a coal tower standing over a coal-laden barge. The windows of the tower glow golden, showing that men are inside running the giant scoop that unloads coal from the barge and drops it onto a conveyor belt within the tower. From there the coal that has just arrived by barge from Pennsylvania or New Jersey goes to power one of New York's electrical generating stations or factories. Cohn spent time among the docks and coal towers where he learned how men worked to provide fuel for the city. With a striking combination of light and dark, lines and masses, the artist describes the grimy dockside world. Cohn's paintings reveal his fascination with the rough, modern geometry of New York's barges, tugboats, warehouses, and factories and the men who worked in them.

1934: A New Deal for Artists exhibition label

Related Books

1934: A New Deal for Artists
During the Great Depression, president Franklin Delano Roosevelt promised a “new deal for the American people,” initiating government programs to foster economic recovery. Roosevelt’s pledge to help “the forgotten man” also embraced America’s artists. The Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) enlisted artists to capture “the American Scene” in works of art that would embellish public buildings across the country. Although it lasted less than one year, from December 1933 to June 1934, the PWAP provided employment for thousands of artists, giving them an important role in the country’s recovery. Their legacy, captured in more than fifteen thousand artworks, helped “the American Scene” become America seen.