During one of his annual trips to Wheeling, West Virginia, where he had spent his teens, Anshutz sketched workers taking a break in the yard of a nail factory, the sort of dreary industrial setting from which most painters averted their eyes. He then painted the men frozen in classical poses derived from life-drawing instruction, which he had received as Thomas Eakins's student at the Pennsylvania Academy. The painting's subtle narrative has invited multiple interpretations. For example, in 1884 Procter & Gamble quoted the image in an advertisement for Ivory Soap by adding washtubs to the foreground. Other commentators have read in it a message of labor's toll upon the men or a celebration of relations between workers and employers. Recent scholars have considered it a nostalgic account of skilled laborers in the face of impersonal factory production and an emblem of rugged masculinity in the face of feminized late-nineteenth-century American culture.1880/Fine Art Museums of San Francisco
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