Sketch of Old Baltimore Waterfront

Herman Maril, Sketch of Old Baltimore Waterfront, 1934, oil on fiberboard, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor, 1964.1.187
Copied Herman Maril, Sketch of Old Baltimore Waterfront, 1934, oil on fiberboard, 18 1814 18 in. (46.036.0 cm.), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor, 1964.1.187

Artwork Details

Sketch of Old Baltimore Waterfront
Not on view
18 1814 18 in. (46.036.0 cm.)
Credit Line
Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor
Mediums Description
oil on fiberboard
  • Cityscape — wharf
  • Figure group — male
  • Architecture — boat — sailing ship
  • Study
  • Cityscape — Maryland — Baltimore
  • New Deal — Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture — Maryland
  • Architecture Exterior — commercial — warehouse
Object Number

Artwork Description

Herman Maril opened a window onto the history of his native city in this view of Baltimore harbor. Maril was a modernist painter who simplified the forms in the painting to make "the abstract structure . . . dominant," yet he retained enough details to situate the scene in a past era. A schooner typical of nineteenth-century shipping is tied up in the foreground, its sails furled after a journey that could have brought it from almost anywhere in the world. The domed Merchants and Exchange building visible in the background stood at the corner of Gay and Water streets in Baltimore's inner harbor from 1815 until it was razed in 1901.

This painting is thus set before Maril’s birth in 1908, in an era cut off from the artist’s life time by the disastrous fire of 1904 that destroyed Baltimore’s inner harbor docks along with much of the city. Maril’s wife recalled that the artist "took pleasure in looking at the architecture and changes in the city over the years," particularly enjoying "the harbor where he walked with his father." Baltimore's vanished past remained key to Maril's personal conception of the American scene.

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.