History And Context
William Gropper painted Minorities in either 1938 or 1939. Most likely Gropper was inspired by the Spanish Civil War, a subject that permeated his work between 1937 and 1939. The desolation of the weary travelers is exacerbated by the harsh and barren terrain and the sickly palette underscores the inhospitable nature of the landscape. Gropper’s rhythmic brushstrokes and assertive curving lines lead the eye across the canvas, left to right, from the struggling figures in the foreground to the lone crag, jutting out from the earth. The title of this painting suggests that the people have been displaced by intolerance and persecution. As an extreme Leftist, Gropper was deeply troubled by the violence in Spain, dedicating a 1937 exhibition to the “defenders of Spanish Democracy.”
The use of art to convey political message was not new to Gropper, whose work almost always had a political message. Gropper’s sympathy for the masses can be traced to early experiences in the Lower East Side. He agreed with his teachers Robert Henri and George Bellows that art should be truthful to the human condition: "I began to realize that you don't paint with color—you paint with conviction, freedom, love, and heartaches—with what you have. The other end is the technique, the equipment with which you convey that." Gropper felt his art could inspire people to be more compassionate and to fight for change: "I'm from the old school, defending the under-dog. Maybe because I've been an underdog or still am.”
Gropper's social-realist paintings are simple, bold, and vigorous. Active lines, distorted forms, energetic brushwork, and expressive color give them a sense of modernism's immediacy, but aesthetic issues were secondary to thematic concerns. Often creating variations on a theme, Gropper generalized and exaggerated details to make his works universal and dramatic.