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    Winslow Homer (American, 1836-1910)
    Upland Cotton, 1879-1895
    Oil on canvas
    49-3/4 x 30 inches (126.4 x 76.2 cm)
    Signed and dated lower left: Homer / 1879-'95


    The artist;
    Estate of the above;
    Charles Savage Homer, Jr., by bequest, 1910;
    Mrs. Charles Savage Homer, Jr., by bequest, 1917;
    Arthur P. and Charles L. Homer, by bequest, 1937;
    Mrs. Charles L. Homer, by bequest, 1955;
    Giovanni Castano, Boston, Massachusetts, 1956;
    Hirschl and Adler Galleries, New York, 1956;
    Alastair Bradley Martin, Glen Head, New York, 1956;
    Monson Williams Proctor Art Institute, Utica, New York;
    Hirschl and Adler Galleries, 1964;
    Sale: Adam A. Weschler and Con, Washington, D.C., November 2, 1970, lot 988;
    Private collection;
    By descent to the present owner.

    National Academy of Design, New York, "Fifty Fourth Annual Exhibition," April 1-May 31, 1879, no. 393;
    Century Association, New York, December 6, 1879, no. 12;
    Union League Club, New York, March 11-13, 1880;
    Brooklyn Art Association, December 7, 1880-January 1, 1881, no. 74;
    Cotton States and International Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia, September 18-December 31, 1895;
    Prouts' Neck Association, Prouts' Neck, Maine, "Centenary Exhibition," July 1936 (as Cotton Blossoms);
    National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1958;
    Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Boston, Massachusetts, 1959, no. 42a/38;
    Vermont Art Center, Manchester, Vermont, 1964, no. 19;
    Hamilton, 1964, no. 4;
    Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Alabama, on loan, 1979;
    The Menil Collection, Houston, Texas, and elsewhere, "Winslow Homer's Images of Blacks: The Civil War and Reconstruction Years," October 21, 1988-January 22, 1989;
    The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, "Facing History: The Black Image in American Art, 1710-1940," January 13-March 25, 1990.

    L. Goodrich and A.B. Gerdts, Record of Works by Winslow Homer, 1887 to March 1881, Vol. III, New York, 2008, pp. 207-211, no. 776, illustrated.

    A groundbreaking 1988 exhibition at the Menil Collection in Houston first brought serious attention to Winslow Homer's depictions of African-Americans. In their scholarly accompanying catalogue, Peter Wood and Karen Dalton emphasized that many of Homer's most important genre paintings highlighted with sensitivity and nuance the black experience during the Civil War and Reconstruction. This calling may have been Homer's destiny. Raised in 1840s Boston, the heart of the Abolitionist Movement, Homer trained as an illustrator and during the Civil War traveled with the Army of the Potomac as a reporter for Harper's Magazine, capturing the complex roles of African-American contraband-slaves smuggled illegally into the North. After the war, he returned to St. Petersburg, Virginia, and in a series of poignant watercolors and oil paintings explored various Reconstruction themes: new beginnings for African-Americans with the advent of citizenship and suffrage, and their eagerness for literacy, education, and independence, despite pushback from Southern whites. Indeed, Homer's iconic images of African-Americans-a stoic lone woman standing guard at her doorstep while the Confederate Army marches by, a young boy plowing a flowering spring field, a group of children reading a Bible by the fire-prompted one reviewer in 1879 to write, "a hundred years from now those pictures alone will have kept him famous" (P. Wood and K. Dalton, Winslow Homer's Images of Blacks: The Civil War and Reconstruction Years, Austin, Texas, 1988, p. 9).

    In two major paintings, Cotton Pickers (1876) and the present work, Upland Cotton (1879-95), Homer examined the theme of black women's contribution to the labor force during Reconstruction. Although most freedmen eschewed picking cotton, the ultimate symbol of slavery, the economic depression of the 1870s forced many to return to this industry for wages. Cotton Pickers shows two monumental women, one holding a basket, the other a sack over her shoulder, dominating the foreground of a vast cotton field, their bonneted heads silhouetted against a cloudy sky. The composition references Jean-Francois Millet's and Jules Breton's peasant paintings, such as The Gleaners and Evening, which Homer had studied on a trip to France in 1866. Yet whereas the French peasants in these works convey exhaustion and poverty in their hunched-over bodies, dejected faces, and tattered clothing, Homer's women are robust, tidily groomed, and in control of their environment, whether languidly picking a cotton boll or gazing wistfully into the distance.

    Three years later, Homer revisited the subject of two African-American female cotton pickers in Upland Cotton, a painting he reworked several times, beginning in 1895. A writer for the Art Journal described the original appearance of the canvas as it hung in New York's National Academy of Design annual exhibition of 1879:

    "The cotton-plants are strangling across a footpath, in which are two negro women, with their heavy, Oriental figures clad in strong, rich colours. One woman stands upright, with her turbaned head swung back, outlined against a thin, hot sky. The other woman is stooping over and gathering the cotton-pods, and her rounded back seems to bear the burden of all the toil of her race. Down close into the foreground of the canvas the cotton-plant is painted, and for crispness and delicacy of drawing, and in the variously developed cotton-pods, from where the wool hangs out of the dry pod, to the half-opened and still unclosed buds, each pod is painted as if doing it was all the artist had ever cared for. The pictures is a superb piece of decoration, with its deep, queer colours like the Japanese dull greens, dim reds, and strange, neutral blues and pinks" (L. Goodrich, Record of Works by Winslow Homer, Vol. III, New York, pp. 207-08).

    Interestingly, much of the period commentary on Upland Cotton focused on the cotton plants and the decorative quality of the composition, rather than the psyche of the women. For example:

    The Appletons' Journal: "Nothing could be more delicate and perfect than the painting of the cotton-pods in this picture-nothing more truly expressive within the design of the artist than the whole composition, which is brilliant and unique" (Ibid., p. 208).

    The Nation: Upland Cotton [is] a beauty and an original, with figures seen through a lattice of wayward plants, where the pods and flowers occur in the finest possible decorative arrangements" (Ibid.).

    The Atlantic Monthly: "Field of tall cotton-plants, crossed and tangled in
    front, and spotted with the large, soft, white pods, with two women of the African race half shrouded in the midst, is very decorative; and there is made to be something mysterious and sphinx-like about the women against the sky" (Ibid.).

    A modern-day interpretation of Upland Cotton is challenging because the upper third of the composition changed over time. In 1895 Homer repainted the sky prior to exhibiting the work at the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta. And sometime before his death in 1910, he scraped and primed with white pigment the entire sky and standing figure, presumably intending to repaint this section. Conservators in the 1940s subsequently added the cloudy sky and the standing figure, using the right figure in Cotton Pickers as a model.

    Whatever Homer may have envisioned, it is clear from the 1879 exhibition reviews that the he intended Upland Cotton at its most elemental level to comment on woman's relationship to nature. Unlike the pair in Cotton Pickers, who dwarf the surrounding landscape, almost striding out of it, the figures in Upland Cotton are integrally connected to their surroundings, the woman in red almost stitched into the fabric of the cotton plants, her companion submerged waist-deep in the thick field. Homer suggests these freedwomen are hearty and hardworking, much like the cotton plants enveloping them. Yet, given the Southern white resistance to Reconstruction, he also hints that though legally free, these black women may never be able to escape the bonds of the past, symbolized by the "slave crop" of cotton. In their simultaneous strength and vulnerability shaped by the natural world, these black women forecast Homer's next great subject from the 1880s, the fisherwomen of Cullercoats, England. Ultimately, Homer's remarkable ability to depict both the psychological complexity and universality of his subjects transcended race, gender, geography, and time.

    This work is located in Heritage Auction's New York Gallery. The buyer will be responsible for pick-up or shipment from this location. We would be delighted to assist with these arrangements.

    Condition Report*: Condition report available upon request.
    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Some condition issues may not be noted in the condition report but are apparent in the provided photos which are considered part of the condition report. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. Heritage does not guarantee the condition of frames and shall not be liable for any damage/scratches to frames, glass/acrylic coverings, original boxes, display accessories, or art that has slipped in frames. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    July, 2020
    1st Wednesday
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