Test your knowledge with a quiz
Hayes, The Lynchers
- The subject and title of this painting refers to the all too common practice of lynching (public killing of an individual who has not received any due process) of primarily Black men during the Jim Crow era, including the 1930s when Vertis Hayes produced this work.
- The scene focuses on the crowd of observers present at a lynching and mirrors photographs taken at the time, some of which were used to create postcards to promote and memorialize such acts of racial hatred. Hayes depicts a range of reactions among the perpetrators, some of whose expressions and actions reinforce the potential for violence.
- For many, the killing of Black people by police is seen as a contemporary form of lynching. This image, therefore, is not only a haunting portrayal of the nation’s past, but has disturbing resonance with what is happening in the United States today.
More to think about
Which person in this painting draws your attention the most? Why?
If you could talk to the artist, what would you want to ask him about this specific figure and about making the painting?
Research project ideas
The composition of this painting, and the choices the artist made about what to include and not include, forces us to confront questions of power and empathy—that of the perpetrators of the lynching and our own. Compare this work with images by two other artists who have engaged the subject of viewing or taking part in a lynching.
What compositional choices did each artist make and how do those choices affect your experience of the image and understanding of the history of lynching in the U.S., past and present?