On a wharf, the lines of the planks draw the viewer’s attention to a lone figure who, in turn, gazes at a smokestack in the distance.

John Atherton

American, 1900–1952

The Wharf, c. 1932

Oil on canvas

22½ x 30¼ inches

After serving in the Navy during World War I, Atherton studied art in San Francisco before winning a $500 dollar prize that allowed him to move to New York. There he attained success as both a commercial and fine artist: he designed magazine covers and advertisements for General Motors, Shell Oil, and Dole, and he was represented by the Julien Levy Gallery, known for its avant-garde artists such as Max Ernst, Joseph Cornell, and Frida Kahlo.

Atherton’s impressive draftsmanship and meticulous technique are apparent in The Wharf. The lines of the planks draw the viewer’s attention to a lone figure who, in turn, gazes at a smokestack in the distance. Although the stark setting may seem lonely—similar to Hopper’s portrayals of desolate urban views and landscapes—the muted palette and calm waters conjure a serene feeling.

On a wharf, the lines of the planks draw the viewer’s attention to a lone figure who, in turn, gazes at a smokestack in the distance.