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The Cotton Pickers

Winslow Homer American

Not on view

The Cotton Pickers is Homer’s most monumental representation, in form and content, of life for the newly emancipated in Reconstruction-era Virginia. Two sensitively rendered laboring women appear poised between their past, present, and future. The painting was admired in its time, not only in the United States but also in England; an English cotton merchant acquired it through an 1877 exhibition at New York’s Century Club, fresh from Homer’s studio.

The work’s complexity—of figural characterization and intent—is grounded in themes of conflict and struggle as well as those of uncertainty and opportunity. Its title and the women's portrayal suggest a post-slavery economy in which little had changed for many. Homer’s friend, author-illustrator F. Hopkinson Smith, later wrote that the painting "haunted me for days," finding in the searching gaze of the figure at right "the whole story of Southern slavery."

The Cotton Pickers, Winslow Homer (American, Boston, Massachusetts 1836–1910 Prouts Neck, Maine), Oil on canvas, American

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