Leo Breslau, Plowing, 1934, oil on wood: plywood, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor, 1964.1.2
Copied Leo Breslau, Plowing, 1934, oil on wood: plywood, 29 7835 78 in. (75.891.2 cm.), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor, 1964.1.2

Artwork Details

Not on view
29 7835 78 in. (75.891.2 cm.)
Credit Line
Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor
Mediums Description
oil on wood: plywood
  • Landscape — mountain
  • Landscape — farm
  • Animal — horse
  • Figure male — full length
  • Occupation — farm — sowing
  • New Deal — Public Works of Art Project — New York City
Object Number

Artwork Description

A farmer walks behind an old-fashioned horse-drawn plow, cultivating the soil as Americans have for generations. Warmed by exertion, the plowman has removed his jacket and hung it on his horse's collar. Steeply rolling hills make plowing this soil heavy work. No doubt the farmer's work will bring a plentiful harvest; the surrounding vegetation is a deep green, promising that this is fertile land.

Leo Breslau created a classic depiction of farm life in response to the Public Works of Art Project's suggestion that artists depict "the American Scene." Yet it seems unlikely that the artist left his native Brooklyn to find this scene demonstrating American ideals. The idyllic rural setting of this painting, like his previous paintings for the PWAP titled The American Home, is in the artist's imagination rather than any specific place. What could be farther from the despairing of breadlines in Depression-era New York City or the Dust Bowl than this green, rustic realm where honest work is richly rewarded? The farmer, raising a new crop, offers hope for the nation.

1934: A New Deal for Artists exhibition label

Related Books

1934: A New Deal for Artists
During the Great Depression, president Franklin Delano Roosevelt promised a “new deal for the American people,” initiating government programs to foster economic recovery. Roosevelt’s pledge to help “the forgotten man” also embraced America’s artists. The Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) enlisted artists to capture “the American Scene” in works of art that would embellish public buildings across the country. Although it lasted less than one year, from December 1933 to June 1934, the PWAP provided employment for thousands of artists, giving them an important role in the country’s recovery. Their legacy, captured in more than fifteen thousand artworks, helped “the American Scene” become America seen.