In the first decades of the twentieth century, a number of young American painters rejected subjects acceptable to polite society in order to respond to the convulsive changes in America wrought by industrialization, wave after wave of immigrants, and the consequent rapid and unchecked growth of the nation’s cities. In 1900, when George Luks painted In the Steerage, the docks of New York were crowded with ships disembarking masses of Europe’s poor. The artist depicts a throng of immigrants crowding the ship’s rail, their bundled belongings piled behind them. He presents the subject with characteristic verve. One contemporary critic admired Luks’s “quivering, feverish haste to catch and preserve the realism [of a scene].” The lively technique underscores the essential hopefulness of the journey: these people have left behind the Old World in expectation of a new life.
tags: boat, water, immigration, change, identity, impact, perspective, place, movement