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American Paintings and Sculpture
Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
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Artist: Thomas Hart Benton, American, 1889–1975

Weighing Cotton


Oil and tempera on canvas mounted on wood panel

32 1/16 × 39 1/2 in. (81.4 × 100.3 cm)
Purchased with the Stephen Carlton Clark, B.A. 1903, and John Hill Morgan, B.A. 1893 Funds; Collection of Mary C. and James W. Fosburgh, B.A. 1933, M.A. 1935, by exchange; and gifts from George Hopper Fitch, B.A. 1932, by exchange, William S. Kilroy, B.S. 1949, and Stanley Stone, B.S. 1916

A premier example of the regionalist style that dominated American art in the 1930s, Weighing Cotton is one of a series of agriculture scenes in which Thomas Hart Benton articulated a personal vision of the American heartland. At that time, cotton was still hand-harvested almost entirely by Black workers, whose daily wages depended on the amount of cotton each individual picked. The cotton was weighed with a simple pole counterweight and then emptied into wagons to be transported to a large cotton gin. Weighing Cotton presents a narrative of an ordinary day in a cotton field. It is also a tale of solitary labor directed toward a common purpose: the wagon must be filled. But this is not a community of equals, which Benton subtly emphasizes through composition and palette. Where the Black men are dressed in muted grays and tans that blend readily into the landscape, the white man is dressed in eye-catching red.

Made in Kansas City, Missouri, United States
On view
20th century

William (Billy) Rose, from 1940. Hon. True Davis, Washington, D.C.; Andrew Crispo Gallery, New York; Private Collection; Hammer Galleries, New York; Kennedy Galleries, Inc., New York, to 1989; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.


Keely Orgeman, “Photographic Tropes and Southern Folks in Thomas Hart Benton’s Weighing Cotton,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2015): 102, fig. 1.

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.