Cotton Harvest, Dallas (Cotton Pickers)


George Grosz ( American, born Germany, 1893 - 1959 )

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General Description

Condemned by the Nazi regime as a "degenerate" for his bitter social satire, George Grosz made his way to the United States in 1932, where he taught at the Art Students league in New York. In 1952, Dallas merchant Leon Harris commissioned a series of pictures from Grosz in which the artist was asked to capture "Dallas, its People, its Industries, its Character." In Cotton Harvest, Dallas, Grosz expressed his sympathy with the backbreaking labor of the cotton fields. The harvesters are bent to their work under a hot, oppressively heavy sky, their human forms distorted by the swollen sacks of cotton dragging behind them.

Grosz arrived in North Texas well outside of the cotton picking season, not to mention in the midst of a punishing drought that greatly reduced cotton crops. Grosz must have drawn on other sources to develop Cotton Pickers, and, tellingly, it relies heavily on conventions for depicting the work of the fields, from Jean-Francois Millet's Gleaners (1857) to more recent photographs and paintings made by the progressive artists of the 1930s. The decision to show the pickers bent low over the cotton plants echoes Millet's famous painting, but it also allows Grosz to elide the vexed question of race. Faces and hands concealed by their stooped posture, these cotton pickers are seamlessly written into art historical tradition and made universal signifiers of agricultural labor.

Adapted from

  • Heather MacDonald, Flower of the Prairie: George Grosz in Dallas (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art, 2012), 50-52.

  • DMA label text.

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