1886: The Strike

Robert Koehler - The Strike (1886)

Robert Koehler: The Strike (1886)

The Strike spoke to issues of urgent concern on both sides of the Atlantic—issues that remain timely even today. From the painting’s debut and initial reception against a fevered background of seething ferment among industrial workers, it acquired an increasingly transnational aura as it traveled back and forth between the United States and Europe at a time when activists on both continents, such as August Bebel in Germany and Eugene Debs in America, were energizing socialist politics and the industrial labor movement. Variously contextualized, The Strike was introduced to a German public by means of a widely reproduced wood engraving erroneously identified as a depiction of striking Belgian coal miners. But while Koehler traced the inspiration of his painting to the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 in the United States, he clearly intended its action to be universal in meaning, unattached to any specific event.

—James M. Dennis: Robert Koehler’s The Strike: The Improbable Story of an Iconic 1886 Painting of Labor Protest (2011)

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