Artworks
Cliff Dwellers

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George Bellows' Cliff Dwellers shows what Jack and Rose had to look forward to if the Titanic ever made it to New York.  

It's a good thing Rose kept the diamond.  In the tenements of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, people flood the streets to escape a stifling summer day.  Social reformers were horrified by Bellows’ frank depiction of abject poverty, and what they saw as the moral decay of the immigrant classes, which makes this one of the most misinterpreted paintings in American history.

Bellows himself sympathized with the plight of people in the slums, but also admired their good humor, and indulgence in the simple pleasures of life.  A sketch for this (also on view at the LACMA) is titled Why Don’t They Go to the Country for a Vacation?, mocking the “Let them eat cake” attitude of the wealthy bourgeoisie. However, Bellows seems primarily interested in showing a group of people who know how to have a really good time, particularly the cavorting youths in the center of the painting. The young girls and boys are showing a lot more skin than you could get away with in the richer sectors of New York Society.

Despite the warmhearted, boisterous spirit of Cliff Dwellers, haters will hate.  Critics called Bellows and his fellow American realists “The revolutionary black gang” and “he apostles of ugliness.”  The dubiously kinder title of the “Ash Can School” caught on, and is still the accepted term for this movement in art.

Most of the people in Cliff Dwellers are probably Irish, Italian or Eastern-European Jewish immigrants, reflecting a time when the population of New York shot from one to five million in just a few decades.  This is a nice reminder in the Pat Buchanan and Donald Trump era of immigration politics that white people are immigrants too.  Buchanan has stated that immigrants are more dangerous to America than ISIS and Trump thinks, "[Mexicans are] bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists, and some, I assume, are good people." We’re sure the Native Americans would entirely agree.

The title of this refers to the Native American Pueblo people, who lived in highly advanced skyscraper-like dwellings in the sides of cliffs before Pat Buchanan’s immigrant ancestors decimated their population.  The ancient ancestors of the modern Pueblo may also have abandoned their magnificent cliff cities because of climate change, so Bellows’ vision of the effects of industrialization on human life is eerily prophetic.

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A hot day in New York City tenement buildings. It must be a Sunday, otherwise all those young children would be working in the factories.

"Cliff Dwellers" is named after ancient Pueblo Indians from the Southwest who lived in similar structures, only they were in real cliffs.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Cliff Dwellers (painting)

Cliff Dwellers (1913) is a painting by George Bellows. It is an oil on canvas painting, 40 14 by 42 18 inches (102 cm × 107 cm). The painting is currently in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which acquired it in 1916.

In Cliff Dwellers, George Bellows captures the colorful crowd on New York City's Lower East Side, on what appears to be a hot summer day. People spill out of tenement buildings onto the streets, stoops, and fire escapes. Laundry flaps overhead and a street vendor hawks his goods from his pushcart in the midst of all the traffic. In the background, a trolley car heads toward Vesey Street.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Cliff Dwellers (painting).