Sheet: 51 x 44.3 cm (20 1/16 x 17 7/16 in.); Image: 43.3 x 33.5 cm (17 1/16 x 13 3/16 in.)
James Parmelee Fund 2003.239
© VAGA, New York, NY
Working in the mid-20th century through the 1980s, the social-realist painter Robert Gwathmey's work mingles memories of his pleasant childhood in the South with his observations of the physical and financial hardships of primarily Black, poor Southern farm workers as an adult. Gwathmey's lens—that of a white man living in New York City and educated in Europe—brought a modernist sensibility to scenes that focused on individual figures or family groups. In Farmer's Wife, he employed expressive distortion of the human figure and a reduction and simplification of forms derived from European Modernism, using flat areas of color in a repetitive and simplified color palette that draws connections between the sitter's skin and dress, the flower bouquet, and the table. The artful arrangement of flowers and the table, with its heart-shaped decoration, reveal the sitter's industry and resilience, just as her hands and face suggest a lifetime of hard work. Gwathmey said of the image that it "is my response to a lady of character who has borne the scars of outrageous circumstance and has refused to be destroyed."
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