Adolph Von Menzel / by Geoff Harrison

Was there ever a greater painter of crowds than Adolph Menzel (1815 - 1905)?  This is his "Iron Rolling Mill" of 1875.

The painting is thought to be a triptych, with a girl supplying bread to the workers on the right, the middle section shows the men toiling with the molten metal while on the left we see the them washing up at the end of their shift.  I love the strong diagonal in the composition created by the fire, the huge flywheel and the far recesses of the factory.

But is Menzel the dispassionate observer or critical commentator of the back-breaking nature of modern industrial work?  For some reason, this painting comes to mind whenever I visit a large department store such as Target or Kmart and see electrical goods and clothing sold at ridiculously low prices - the products of present day sweat-shop labour.