About This Artwork

Thomas Hart Benton
American, 1889–1975

Cotton Pickers, 1945

Oil on canvas
81.3 x 121.9 cm (32 x 48 in.)

Prior bequest of Alexander Stewart; Centennial Major Acquisitions Income and Wesley M. Dixon Jr. funds; Roger and J. Peter McCormick Endowments; prior acquisition of the George F. Harding Collection and Cyrus H. McCormick Fund; Quinn E. Delaney, American Art Sales Proceeds, Alyce and Edwin DeCosta and Walter E. Heller Foundation, and Goodman funds; prior bequest of Arthur Rubloff; Estate of Walter Aitken; Ada Turnbull Hertle and Mary and Leigh Block Endowment funds; prior acquisition of Mr. and Mrs. Frank G. Logan Purchase Prize; Marian and Samuel Klasstorner and Laura T. Magnuson Acquisition funds; prior acquisition of Friends of American Art Collection; Wirt D. Walker Trust; Jay W. McGreevy Endowment; Cyrus Hall McCormick Fund; Samuel A. Marx Purchase Fund for Major Acquisitions; Maurice D. Galleher Endowment; Alfred and May Tiefenbronner Memorial, Dr. Julian Archie, Gladys N. Anderson, and Simeon B. Williams funds; Capital Campaign General Acquisitions Endowment, and Benjamin Argile Memorial Fund, 2013.4

© T.H. Benton and R.P. Benton Testamentary Trust / UMB Bank Trustee/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

The American Regionalist Thomas Hart Benton painted Cotton Pickers based on notes of a trip he made to Georgia in the late 1920s. He depicted the dignity of the cotton pickers in the face of backbreaking labor and intense summer heat, rendering the dry fields and the working bodies in a sinuous, curvilinear style. Benton held progressive views on race, social relations, and politics, and he believed ardently that African American history was central to the understanding of American culture. Cotton sharecropping, an agricultural system that developed after the Civil War, allowed landowners to rent land to poor farmers in return for a share of the crops. Because sharecropping kept agricultural laborers impoverished, it became a symbol of a racially and economically unjust system. Cotton cultivation became one of Benton’s most important subjects, especially as the rapid industrialization of the nation during World War II changed the American landscape.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

Art Institute of Chicago, "America After the Fall: Painting in the 1930s," June 5-September 18, 2016; travels to Paris, Musee de l'Orangerie, October 15, 2016-January 30, 2017; London, Royal Academy, February 25-June 4, 2017, cat. 4 (Paris and London only).

Publication History

"Paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago, Highlights of the Collection," (Art Institute of Chicago/Yale University Press, 2017) p. 130.

Ownership History

Robert Schoelkopf Gallery, New York, by 1971; acquired by Sergio Stella, February 8, 1971, by trade; by descent in the family; consigned to Menconi & Schoelkopf Fine Art, LLC, New York, 2012; sold to the Art Institute, 2013.

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