Lot 1325
  • 1325

Ralph Fasanella (1914-1997)

70,000 - 90,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Ralph Fasanella
  • Mill Workers-Lower Pacific Mill (Working at the Mill)
  • oil on canvas
  • 50 by 96 in.
signed R. Fasanella and date 1977 lower right.


Families USA Foundation, Washington, DC;
Lowell Development and Financial Corp, Lowell, Massachusetts;
Elkin B. and Donna M. McCallum.


Ithaca, New York, Urban Visions: The Paintings of Ralph Fasanella, September 11-November 10, 1985, Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University;
Cooperstown, New York, Fenimore Art Museum, Ralph Fasanella's America, April 1-December 31, 2001, also at the New York, New York, The New York Historical Society, April 1-July 15, 2002, and Orlando, Florida, The Mennello Museum of American Folk Art, August 15-November 30, 2002;
Lawrence, Massachusetts, October 11-December 13, 2013, Lawrence Heritage State Park;
Washington, DC, Ralph Fasanella: The Art of Social Engagement, May 2-August 1, 2014, AFL-CIO Lobby.


Paul S. D'Ambrosio, Ralph Fasanella's America, (Cooperstown, NY: New York State Historical Association, 2001), pp. 127-9.


The areas painted in dark brown and black brown fluoresce-in some cases, those areas differ in texture and thickness from other areas of the same color. The fluorescence may be the result of the pigment that Fasanella used. Or it may be the result of the instability of that pigment which later required touch up.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

This monumental painting, Mill Workers-Lower Pacific Mill, is one of a series of seven paintings by Ralph Fasanella associated with the 1912 textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts.  After the horrific tragedy of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, where 145 young women lost their lives, a spotlight was shone on the dangerous working conditions immigrant workers often endured. For many throughout the country, aggressive collective action was their only recourse. Therefore when a dispute arose over reduced pay, workers in Everett, Arlington, Washington, and Wood Mills walked off their jobs, inciting a general strike. A number of the strikers were young women in their teens, from as many as fifty-two different countries. The strike was successful and proved that immigrants of all nationalities could forge a united front to oppose the excesses of industrial capitalism. The historical importance of the strike cannot be overstated. It was the first great textile strike in America, and led to a number of other large-scale strikes in the following years, most notably: Paterson, New Jersey, in 1913; New Bedford, Massachusetts, in 1928; and Gastonia, North Carolina, in 1929. Perhaps foremost for Fasanella, the 1912 strike represented the first time disparate ethnic groups worked together.

Mill Workers-Lower Pacific Mill (1977) is the first in the series Fasanella where he began to execute on a grand scale and a thematic breadth that his subject demanded. Mill Workers (later called Working at the Mill) is an epic painting devoted solely to depicting the inner workings of a textile mill; it focuses on the main section of a monolithic mill structure brought close to the picture plane and shown in complete, five-story cutaway view. The interior shows every aspect of industrial textile production: carding, spinning, weaving, dyeing, and inspection. Despite the emphasis on the machines, and the immensity of the entire operation, Fasanella has humanized this painting by including the entryway and break room at lower right, where workers have their coffee. He also shows workers moving about on their way to and from the factory in the foreground by the canal.

Like Fasanella's earlier Lawrence paintings, Mill Workers is a composite of contemporary and historical sources. More than any other work, however, it demonstrates Fasanella's intense interest in understanding and accurately depicting the mechanical technology that shaped the daily existence of the mill workers. This painting is the result of months of sketching mill machinery in Lowell and asking questions about how it worked. Fasanella also spent countless hours at the Merrimack Valley Textile Museum studying the historical machinery and making detailed notes. The resulting work is an accurate, monumental rendering of the industrial environment in which the immigrant workers spent most of the day.

While Fasanella's paintings are all about hope as much as loss. He sought to provide a blueprint for humankind to change the world. Fasanella's America- the one he never found but never stopped searching for- lay between memory and vision, between loss and hope. Realizing the promise of America required understanding and acknowledging our collective and individual heritage, sorting out its best qualities, celebrating its triumphs and memorializing its losses, and using this information as an instrument of change to affect the future. In merging the interests and values of the collective and individual, Fasanella's family becomes our family, his street becomes our street, and the promise of his America-a humane democratic society that values culture and community- becomes our shared vision.

Fasanella did not believe in art for art's sake. Painting, he believed, had to serve higher goals- it had to communicate ideas that would lead to self-realization for the working people he cared so much about. It had to be spontaneous, emotional, and true. It had to be original, not formulaic. And above all, it had to be seen.

The Lawrence series as a whole stands today as one of the most important and visually powerful bodies of historical painting produced in the twentieth-century by an American artist. The majority of the above text is excerpted from Paul S. D'Ambrosio, Ralph Fasanella's America, (Cooperstown, NY: New York State Historical Association, 2001)

Sotheby’s is honored to offer Mill Workers-Lower Pacific Mill from this landmark series.