In this painting, a male worker is pushing a wheelbarrow packed with seaweed—intended for use as fertilizer—up a grassy hill, while another worker can be seen in the distance gathering more seaweed. The viewer is positioned close to the ground near the central subject, making him appear monumental. This realist, ennobling depiction of a labourer was influenced by the famed French painter Jean-François Millet (1814–1875), who documented the struggles and quiet dignity of peasant farmers in mid-nineteenth-century France. A great admirer of Millet, Bannister described him as “the profoundest, most sympathetic, and deeply religious artistic spirit of our time,” who sought to “voice . . . the sad, uncomplaining life he saw about him—and with which he sympathized so deeply.”
Artist and Abolitionist
Edward Mitchell Bannister, Seaweed Gatherers, c.1898
Oil on canvas, 65.7 x 50.6 cm, Collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC, Gift of H. Alan and Melvin Frank (1983.95.149).