The J. Paul Getty Museum

Human Erosion in California (Migrant Mother)

Object Details

Title:

Human Erosion in California (Migrant Mother)

Artist/Maker:

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895 - 1965)

Culture:

American

Place:

United States (Place Created)

Date:

March 1936

Medium:

Gelatin silver print

Object Number:

98.XM.162

Dimensions:

34.1 × 26.8 cm (13 7/16 × 10 9/16 in.)

See more

See less

Object Description

The first publication of this renowned image occurred on March 11, 1936, on the third day that the San Francisco News ran a story about the pea pickers' camp in Nipomo. It was also featured as a full-page reproduction in the September 1936 issue of Survey Graphic, titled "Draggin'-Around People" and captioned "A blighted pea crop in California in 1935 left the pickers without work. This family sold their tent to get food." Also in this issue was an article by Paul Taylor, Dorothea Lange's husband, entitled "From the Ground Up." His report on demonstration projects of the New Deal's Resettlement Administration (RA) in Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and California was illustrated with four more pictures by Lange.

Since it was first published, this composition, best known as Migrant Mother, has come to represent not only the pictorial archive created by the RA/Farm Security Administration during the 1930s, but also the Great Depression itself. Posters and other publicity of later activists fighting racial, economic, and political oppression have borrowed from Lange's icon of the time. The handsome, androgynous face, the pose of stoic anxiety, and the encumbrance of three children proved to be universal attributes. Lange took five other shots of Owens on that same day. The Getty has one more from this group in its collection (2001.51.1). With Lange's artistry, Florence Owens took on the timeless quality of Eugène Delacroix's strong female rebel (Liberty Leading the People) and Jean-François Millet's peasant woman (the agrarian ideal), Honoré Daumier's laundresses (the working woman), and Kӓthe Kollwitz's proletarian woman warrior (one of the mothers leading her Peasant's War).

Owens, although, she became famous, did not enjoy, even momentarily, the life of a celebrity. She had a total of ten children and kept moving with her family, following the California crops. She did become involved in efforts to organize farm labor and would sometimes serve as the straw boss, one who negotiates wages for the migrants as the picking season begins. She was still working in the fields at the age of fifty before finally marrying again (to George Thompson) and settling down into a stable life in Modesto, California.
Judith Keller, Dorothea Lange, In Focus: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2002), 32. © 2002 J. Paul Getty Trust.

Provenance
Provenance
- 1967

Willard D. Morgan, American, 1900 - 1967, by inheritance to a member of the Willard D. Morgan family.

after 1967 -

Member of Willard D. Morgan family, American, 1900 - 1967, sold to Penelope A. Dixon.

- 1998

Penelope A. Dixon, American, [sold, Sotheby's, New York, October 7, 1998, lot 119 to J. Paul Getty Museum.]

Exhibitions
Exhibitions
Tradition and Innovation: Recent Additions to the Photographs Collection (June 20 to October 8, 2000)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), June 20 to October 8, 2000
The Public Record: Photographs of the Great Depression from the J. Paul Getty Museum (March 10 to May 19, 2002)
  • Pomona College Museum of Art (Claremont), March 10 to May 19, 2002
About Life: The Photographs of Dorothea Lange (October 15, 2002 to February 9, 2003)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), October 15, 2002 to February 9, 2003
Photographers of Genius (March 16 to July 25, 2004)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), March 16 to July 25, 2004
In Focus: The Worker (November 3, 2009 to March 21, 2010)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), November 3, 2009 to March 21, 2010
Route 66: The Road and the Romance (June 7, 2014 to January 4, 2015)
  • Autry National Center (Los Angeles), June 7 to September 15, 2014
Bibliography
Bibliography

Keller, Judith. Dorothea Lange. In Focus: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2002), p.33.

Keller, Judith. About Life: The Photographs of Dorothea Lange, exh. brochure (Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2003), cover.

The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Collections. 7th ed. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2007), p. 309, ill.

Education Resources
Education Resources

Education Resource

Subjects

Grades

Format

Looking at Portraits Lesson 2: How Do Portraits Communicate?

Students read a visual image very much like they would read words in a story.

Visual Arts; English–Language Arts; ESL (English as a Second Language)

Adult Learners

Short Activity

Photography and Choreography

Lesson in which students engage in visual and written activities that support the creative process of choreographing a solo dance composition.

Visual Arts; Dance

9-12

Three/Five-Part Lesson