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Man riding a mule in front of a cotton field by William Aiken Walker, c. 1885

oil on board, 20.3 x 30.5 cm, signed lower left, auction Christie’s, New York, 15-05-2019

This painting is characteristic for the work on the cotton fields in the Southern states of the USA. All work was done by the black population and mainly mules were used for transport of the cotton crop and people. William Walker made many scenes related to the work on the cotton fields, all of them with black people and many with mules. Cotton pickers, wagons loaded with cotton bales, cabins with families, all these topics give us a good idea of the important cotton industry of that time. The man in this painting may be a supervisor on a plantation. Striking are the reins which consist of skeins of cotton, and even the stirrups have been fixed with skeins of cotton to the pommel of the saddle, which is a most peculiar construction. The reins have some unusual extra loops, probably meant to tether the horse to a fence. The entire equipment is very simple but the rider is completely at ease on his animal. The history of the black Americans on horseback is now the topic of a travelling exhibition ‘Brief History of Black Horsemen in Racing’ in the USA, on loan from James Madison’s Montpelier in Virginia.