Employment of Negroes in Agriculture

  • Earle Richardson, Employment of Negroes in Agriculture, 1934, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor, 1964.1.183

Exhibition Label
Earle Richardson depicted his fellow African Americans working barefooted in a southern cotton field, but the artist denied demeaning stereotypes to stress the dignity of his subjects. These workers are not bent over to pick cotton; the three youthful figures have a monumental aspect, using their impressive strength to handle heavy baskets of cotton. Only one older woman bends over her task. The workers' quiet pride transcends their identity as manual laborers. They stand at the front of the painting, where they confront the viewer as equals who are ready for a better life.

The Public Works of Art Project welcomed African American artists like Richardson who would paint "Negro themes." Yet they counted only about ten such artists among the thousands employed on the Project. Richardson was also rare in showing a scene far from his home. The artist was a native New Yorker, but he set his painting in the South in order to make a broad statement about his race. Richardson and fellow artist Malvin Gray Johnson planned to say more about the history and promise of black people in their mural series Negro Achievement, slated to be installed in the New York Public Library's 135th Street Branch, but neither young man lived long enough to complete the project.

1934: A New Deal for Artists exhibition label

Employment of Negroes in Agriculture
48 x 32 1/8 in. (121.8 x 81.6 cm.)
Credit Line

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor

Mediums Description
oil on canvas
  • New Deal – Public Works of Art Project – New York State
  • Occupation – farm – harvesting
  • Landscape – farm
  • Figure group
  • Landscape – plant – cotton
Object Number
Linked Open Data
Linked Open Data URI

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