The Cool Workers is unusual in that it is the only painting Monet executed showing people in an industrial context. However, he has removed the human element by focusing on the pattern
and arrangement of the scene rather the workers themselves. The figures on their planks are reduced to anonymity and become simply a decorative element within the composition.
Monet shared the preoccupations of some of his contemporaries, such as the painter Degas or the novelist Zola, who were trying to describe all the facets of modern life. A scene showing laborers is unusual in Monet's oeuvre. The Seine here is not the light-hearted setting for regattas, but the river plied by heavy barges. The banks are lined not with trees, but smoking chimneys. Sunday strollers have given way to workers unloading coal from the barges to supply the nearby factory.
In 1875 an auction was held at the Hotel Drouot in which Monet, Alfred Sisley, and Renoir sold off their works. The Coal Workers was bought by a banker. But the overall outcome of the auction was very poor. The event was derided in the press and marked the beginning of an eight-year period of severe financial difficulties for Monet.