“The Cotton Pickers” – Winslow Homer 1876

“The Cotton Pickers” – Winslow Homer. Oil on canvas. 1876. 24 1/16 x 38 1/8 inches. LACMA permanent collection.

In 1876, Winslow Homer was one of the few artists who pictured African-Americans with sympathy and respect. The Cotton Pickers, from 1876, shows two young women returning home from a day’s work in the fields. These two women stand tall and proud, despite their tiring labor.

Picking cotton was an exhausting and sometimes painful job. The cotton seems soft. But the fluffy boll hides the prickly seedpod underneath. Notice how it catches at the woman’s apron. This kind of realism, based on accurate observation, is a hallmark of Homer’s art.

Here, his realism serves a deeper, more symbolic function. Ten years after the Civil War’s end, not much had changed in the lives of former slaves. Look into the face of the woman on the right. She looks off into the distance as if toward a better future–one that’s still far away.

Homer’s friend and fellow painter Hopkinson Smith found in this painting what he called “the whole story of Southern Slavery.” ©LACMA

“One of my favorite painting in LACMA. What a beautiful work..The lighting and the subject of the painting completely complements each other.  I enjoy paintings that depicts history. I had a small replica of this painting from LACMA but I gave it to my dearest employee who absolutely loved the painting @ my office.” 

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