William Zorach

William Zorach

Plowing the Fields


oil on canvas

24 in. x 36 in. (60.96 cm x 91.44 cm)


Gift of Dr. and Mrs. R. Huntington Breed II, Mrs. Elenore Freedman, the Friends, Mr. and Mrs. Saul Greenspan, Mr. and Mrs. James W. Griswold, Mr. and Mrs. Robert C. Holcombe, Mr. and Mrs. John F. Swope, Mr. and Mrs. Davis P. Thurber, and Mr. and Mrs. Kimon S. Zachos

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Best known for his sculptures, William Zorach spent his early years pursuing a mastery of painting. When a student at the Cleveland School of Art, Zorach was surrounded by a remarkable group of American painters including William Sommer and Charles Burchfield—both noted modernists. Such was the pull of the modern in those days, that Zorach and Sommer spent time in Europe studying the latest painting trends in France and Germany. For Zorach, however, the greatest influence on his artistic vision would come in the form of American artist Marguerite Thompson, who he met in Paris, and would later marry upon their return to the US --embarking on a lifelong, creative partnership. The Zorach’s are best known for their decades of residency in Georgetown, Maine, but they also spent summers in New Hampshire’s Cornish Artist Colony in the 19-teens.

Plowing the Fields is the perfect representation of their idyllic summer days in Plainfield. Inspired by the heady conversations they must have enjoyed, the Zorach’s produced a remarkable body of work in New Hampshire. Plowing the Fields is among Zorach’s greatest works on canvas. In this painting you can imagine him engaging the beautiful, rustic world before him, while simultaneously incorporating the sophisticated painting lessons he’d learned from Cezanne’s post-impressionist and Matisse’s fauvist landscapes.

Follow me as we travel the painting.

The dominant color chords are cool blues and greens, particularly in the foregrounded hills, pines and bulbous trees at the bottom of the painting. These cool colors are repeated at the top of the painting, in the sliver of bluish green of the sky and along the contours of distant mountains that draw your eye back. These cooler tones frame a dynamic and receding network of plowed fields and hills, that are cast in lighter tints of orange and violet. Amidst this scene are two simply rendered farmers, at work plowing green fields with the help of sturdy horses. To their left, a silhouetted crow in a blasted tree. And, to their right, a field of grazing cows. Is this a parable? Perhaps. I’m reminded of Van Gogh’s sowers and I’m sure Zorach had the nobility of hard work in mind when he constructed this image. For Zorach, Plowing the Fields would stand as one of the last great paintings he would make before abandoning painting for sculpture. And, Marguerite? She would continue to paint and create scenic, large scale tapestries. Both artists remained committed to representing the people and places around them, in their own variety of New England modernism.