Cotton Pickers by Clare Leighton
While originally Clare Leighton’s artistic interests fell primarily into the realms of painting, after attending the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London, Leighton fell into a love of wood engraving. Engraving became the medium of choice for Leighton moving forward and her mastery of the craft would lead to numerous awards and recognitions. Leighton used this medium to portray the rural culture of the time – with workers who remained true to the soil, and the rolling landscapes of the farming country they call their home. Unlike some depictions of this working class by other artists, Leighton focused on the romanticized elements of the lifestyle by choosing to show senses of community, purpose, and peace.
Cotton Pickers, created in 1941, portrays six workers in a field tasked with plucking the cotton. Three of the figures fall into the background of the composition, two on the left-hand side of the image, and one on the right and the remaining three figures are brought directly into the foreground of the composition. Figures are brought forward and backwards in the composition through her use of intense contrast, which also showcases what is presumably a very sunny day based on the fact the sky is left practically white. Leighton’s interest in a romanticized life of rural workers and community can be seen in the way the three figures seem to flow one into the next, almost as though they have become on cohesive unit. Their bodies move as one unit to collect the cotton and get the work done. Leighton also chooses to leave the workers’ faces ambiguous, as seen in the fact there are no details rendered in the faces at all. This choice does not allow the viewer any indication of what the worker may be feeling while they complete this work – maintaining a sense of peace. The respect of living true to the soil is emphasized through the cotton bush set in the very foreground of the piece, which mimics the stance of the workers behind it. - Erin Lascot
Hickman, Caroline Mesrobian, "Clare Leighton's Wood Engravings of English Country Life Between the Wars." PHD. diss., University of North Carolina, 2011. ProQuest(3495493).