Tobacco

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Tobacco

United States, 1946
Paintings
Oil on canvas
44 1/8 x 35 1/8 in. (112.08 x 89.22 cm); 44 1/8 x 35 1/8 in. (112.08 x 89.22 cm); Framed: 50 3/8 x 41 1/4 x 4 in. ; (127.95 x 104.78 x 10.16 cm)
Mira Hershey Memorial Collection (47.9.3)
Not currently on public view

Curator Notes

Sharecroppers were the subject of the majority of works exhibited in Gwathmey’s solo exhibition in 1946 at the A.C.A. Gallery, New York....
Sharecroppers were the subject of the majority of works exhibited in Gwathmey’s solo exhibition in 1946 at the A.C.A. Gallery, New York. The tobacco industry was a major source of employment for blacks in the South, and Gwathmey knew the industry firsthand, for he won a Rosenwald Fellowship, which permitted him to live and work on a tobacco farm in 1944 and 1945. He usually singled out a particular aspect of farming, but in Tobacco he incorporated into one scene the different stages of tobacco processing. The painting is meant to be read clockwise, beginning in the lower left with the stooping man picking leaves off the stalk of a tobacco plant. The leaves are then tied together into bundles, as the women behind him are doing, and hung in heated tobacco barns for curing. This process is dramatically alluded to by the barn burning in the distance, which has been ignited by the fire used to heat it. After curing, the leaves are sorted by color. This process, known as grading, usually takes place indoors; Gwathmey showed the barn in the lower-right corner with the wall removed so that the women who are grading tobacco can be seen. Despite the number of activities depicted, Gwathmey created a tightly knit composition. Although seemingly haphazard in arrangement, the scene is organized around several large buildings with pitched roofs and a triangular-shaped tobacco patch, which acts as a counterpoint to the roofs. The palette is intense, almost unreal: the foreground field is somber purple, the mid-distance rose, and the far distance forest green; the sky is a strong blue punctuated by the neon orange of the flames. The figures repeat the major color chords of the fields with greater variation.
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Bibliography

  • Fort, Ilene Susan and Michael Quick.  American Art:  a Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection.  Los Angeles:  Museum Associates, 1991.
  • LACMA: Obras Maestras 1750-1950: Pintura Estadounidense Del Museo De Arte Del Condado De Los Angeles. Mexico, D.F.: Museo Nacional de Arte, 2006.