In the late 1940s the dockside activity of fishermen at Lowestoft and along the Thames became the focus of Clough’s work. She wrote that painting this subject was ‘an attempt to introduce the figure into a contemporary urban landscape without the devices of the past, without the myths of Mars or Venus or the legends of Breughel. I was trying to update the classical Western concern with the figure without benefit of religious or mythical context' (quoted in an interview with Bryan Robertson, cited in exhibition catalogue, Prunella Clough: New Paintings 1979-82, London, Warwick Arts Trust, 1982, p. 3).
Engaged in manual labour, the figures in the paintings of this period are almost inseparable from their surroundings through Clough’s semi-Cubist treatment of them. Man washing fish boxes relates closely to the Tate’s oil of the same year, Man Hosing Metal Fish Boxes. In both paintings a single figure stands in a dockside room, a powerful jet of water acting as a dynamic rush of movement at the centre of the composition. Clough depicts the man and his environment equally, with heavy outlines and subdued palette. In 1960 Michael Middleton wrote that the effect of this was to dehumanise the worker: he is ‘cast into anonymity by an identification with his labour or surroundings so great that it is not always easy at first to disentangle him: his feelings, skills, memories have been subordinated to his existence as a statistic, a producer of man-hours, a figure in a cloud of steam, the instrument and product of a pattern of society too complex for the old humanities’ (introduction to exhibition catalogue, Prunella Clough, London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1960, p. 9).
Margaret Garlake, however, offered a different interpretation of these paintings, suggesting that they depict individuals: 'In her various series of worker paintings, made during the fifteen years after the war, Clough associated herself with an enclave of hitherto male-dominated practice in which she side-stepped both heroicisation and genre by her negotiation of a territory between modernism and realism. ... Clough's workers are simultaneously defined by and define their work, but they are not reduced to mechanical cyphers. Their absorption is the opposite of alienation; her worker paintings reflect the dignity and value of labour’ (New Art New World: British Art in Postwar Society, New Haven, 1998, pp. 136-7).