Thursday, October 4, 2018

"Day Labor"

8 x 10"
oil on panel

The painting featured here, The Cotton Pickers, being viewed by a woman in the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, is a historically important one painted by Winslow Homer in 1876 - a time in American when the Civil War had ended a decade earlier and the period of Reconstruction was nearly at an end.  Reconstruction attempted to end the Confederate nationalism and end slavery and give newly-freed slaves their civil rights and equality guaranteed by three new Constitutional amendments.

Winslow Homer was born in Boston in 1836, and at the age of 19 he apprenticed at a newspaper, then as a freelance illustrator and lithographer for nearly twenty years - tapping into a hot art market for urban and country social scenes (think Currier & Ives).  

In 1861, Harper's Weekly hired Homer to illustrate Lincoln's first inaugural address then stayed on with the magazine, as a battlefield artist, when the Civil War began a year later.  In 1874, Homer returned to Virginia, where he had spent time during the final siege of the war, and took a new direction in his subject matter, wanting to portray the lives of rural, black Americans - mindfully in contrast to the caricatured portraits he and other war correspondents took part in.  

That's where the importance of The Cotton Pickers came in - painting blacks in more heroic terms. Not the denigrating ways of the past. European artists nailed this representing their nation's peasants and field workers and Homer brought the same respect to our nation's black population. The two women stand in a cotton field, still laboring as they did before the Civil War, aspiring for a better life despite the Jim Crow laws preventing them from true equality. It's a very poignant and profound painting.

Please click here for a larger view.

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