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Joe Jones (1909-1963) Cornfield, 1941 Oil on canvas, 30 ⅛ x 40 ⅛ inches Framed dimensions: 38 x 48 inches Signed and dated lower right: Joe Jones 1941 Label from Selected Artists Galleries, Inc., on verso reads: Joe Jones / Cornfield (1941) / oil / 362 Provenance: Selected Artists Galleries, New York; Sotheby’s, January 30, 1980, lot 327; private collection, New Jersey, until 2012 Exhibited: (possibly) Associated American Artists, New York, Joe Jones: Paintings, March 1943, no. 7 (as Picking Corn). Joe Jones emerged as a talented modernist painter in St. Louis around 1930, and his brief training in decorative painting helped him to secure a mural commission in 1931. Radicalized by the Great Depression, Jones began to treat the country’s troubles in social realist paintings beginning in 1933, and in 1935 showed his work to acclaim at his first one-man show in New York. Having found his voice, Jones embarked on a second phase of his career in 1936, when he received his first of several commissions from government agencies. The majority of these were from a Treasury Department program, which from 1937 to 1941 employed him to paint five murals for post offices in Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas, mostly depicting wheat harvesting. He said of his 1939 mural in Anthony, Kansas: “My interest was in portraying man at work, his job before him and how he goes about it with his tools.... Man doing his work efficiently and under control is beautiful to look at to other men and that is my chief concern.” For his last Treasury Department mural, for the post office in Dexter, Missouri, in 1941, Jones chose a slightly different subject, corn husking. Instead of the broad prairie views of his wheat-harvesting works, tall corn stalks block the view into the distance. Jones echoed this closed composition in our painting of the same year, Cornfield, to convey the communal nature of corn picking. A team of four men works at close quarters and with their hands, each attentive to his task: the boy in the center holds a sack open for his companion to throw in a handful of ears; the man on the left waits to tie up the bag; and a man standing between the rows of corn picks more ears. Jones animated the background with the writhing linear movement and flickering highlights of the leaves and stalks that extend back to the horizon. Jones covered World War II for the War Art Unit and Life magazine. Following the war, he shifted to landscape subjects, and produced lithographs and silkscreens as well. Jones settled in Morristown, New Jersey, in 1942. Jones’ work can be found in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Newark Museum, New Jersey; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D. C.; Cleveland Museum of Art, Saint Louis Art Museum, Denver Art Museum, and the Phoenix Art Museum.
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