Month: January 2015

The Cotton Pickers

“The Cotton Pickers,” painted by Winslow Homer in 1876, is a mix between realism and impressionism displaying heroic plantation workers.

Homer was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1836. Mostly self taught, Homer was a landscape painter and a print-maker. Homer is renown for his expressive facial renderings of ‘unusual,’ rural subjects. Homer studied and painted in Europe in the later part of his life, impacting his style. However, this new stylistic development helped Homer display ‘unusual’ muses as graceful and heroic. Because of his realism and sensitivity towards his subjects, Homer is known as “first American consistently to paint African Americans without the prevailing attitudes of condescension and sentimentality” (LAMCA).

As seen in “The Cotton Pickers,” there is a realistic view of these slave-like workers: it is early morning and the two women have already filled their baskets full of cotton. There is no sugar-coating the fact that they have probably been working before dawn. Black codes are forcing these women into an inevitable cycle of labor. But the slave women are looking onward… They are surrounded in a hazy Impressionistic swirl of oppression but are keeping a stoic and determined face. They have been glorified by Homer.

Now what was happening at history at the time was rather poignant. In 1876, the date “The Cotton Pickers” was painted, Federal troops were being taken out of the south. Reconstruction was coming to an end, and the Federal Government decided to switch from helping their new vulnerable citizens, to helping rich industrialists fight labor unions. The years right before Homer painted “The Cotton Pickers,” African-Americans had hopes of drastic improvement. But this idealism was short lived, as racism and a newer harsher form of black codes (Jim Crow Laws) was soon to be created.

In contrast to the new disappointment in many southern Freedmen, Homer still paints these two women fieldworkers with sympathy and strength. He paints with a low vantage point, making the women take the whole composition. The women are not fatigued, but erect: exemplifying their will-power to withhold their current circumstances. The woman to the right in red looks defiant, a attitude which will help in the future.

Again, as the woman in red looks onward to the left, we can notice how the background changes from right to left: from one tree to a forest. Or it can be interpreted as one hope turning into a unified force of change: a prediction for the civil rights movement.



“American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life.” Art for Change. 2010

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LAMCA). “The Cotton Pickers” -currently on view.

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

Winslow Homer – The Complete Works. 2015.


Lackawanna Valley

“The Lackawanna Valley,” painted by George Inness in 1856, displays a transition not only in the art world, but also in American history.

George Inness, born in 1825 in Newburgh, New York, was a famous American landscape painter. Inness studied under masters in the Hudson River School where he developed a spiritual expression in his paintings. Inness is known for his realistic work through the Tonalist movement and unique American style.

“The Lackawanna Valley” is changing from Romanticism to Realism. Artistically, there is a happy, ‘rose-tinted’ background but also a harsh, stumped tree-scape in the foreground. In a historical sense, there is a celebration of the transcontinental railway; but there is also the reality of the environmental impact.

My initial reactions to this painting included the use of muted colors (Tonalism) and a lonesome, large tree in the left foreground. This painting emphasizes the tree by mere size, the the train smoke and roundhouse I feel are also emphasized by the use of light. The boy’s red sweater also pops. From these observations, I came to realize this painting would be relative to the topic of westward expansion and it’s impacts.

Many critics view “The Lackawanna Valley” as a harmonious piece between nature, machine, and progress. This is a more Romantic view because harmony and progress overlook the negative impacts of the industrial revolution. This progress demonstrated only by the progressing train, but also by the completed roadhouse. Inness was commissioned by the president of the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad to paint this valley scene with the intended roadhouse completed to show viewers what glory it would behold. The boy in red is thought to be admiring the beauty of the train. This admiration of machines was very common at the time: as noted in class, the Corliss Steam Engine was viewed as a revolutionary work of art in a museum.

When looking at the painting, the railroad splits it into thirds: 1/3 civilization, 1/3 tree stumps, and 1/3 woods and farmland. While some think the thirds in a rhythmic flow of progress, I see it as a juxtaposition and it’s result. What I mean by this is that I see the mixture between machine and nature resulting in the destruction of the environment and the creatures living in it. This reminds me of a moment in class when we talked of the mass killing of Buffalo in the west to make room for the expanding railway.


(image from:,_ca1870.png)

So instead of this progressive Romantic view some critics have, I think Inness wanted to display destruction. With “the swath of tree stumps” in the foreground and the roadhouse in the background, it is implied that the boy in red is overlooking and contemplating the impact of western expansion. The boy in red is almost in the shadow (or protection) of the tree.. how ironic.



Bell, Adrienne Baxter. “George Inness (1825–1894)”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. December 2012. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.

Fedrick, Barbara. “Linking Geography and Art: Inness’ The Lackawanna Valley.” Journal of Geography. Vol 95. Issue 6. 1996.

Inness, George. The Lackawanna Valley c. 1856. Oil on canvas. 86 x 127.5 cm

Krome-Lukens, Anna. In class discussion. 2015

Horsley, Carter. “George Inness and Visionary Landscape.” National Academy of Design, New York. 2003.

“The Lackawanna Valley” National Gallery of Art.