Girl with Pitchfork, painted in 1867 during the artist's visit to France, foreshadows the imposing figures of fisherwomen and other female laborers Homer produced in Cullercoats, England, some 13 years later. Yet in contrast to the typical "Homer girl" of the 1860s and early 1870s, whose proportions are delicate and youthful and whose activities are usually limited to leisure activities, the figure in Girl with Pitchfork is sturdy. Her pursuit is the work essential to her livelihood, rather than lighthearted play.
In this simple, spare composition, Homer narrows the focus to the single figure and compresses the picture plane into a strong vertical format in which land and figure merge. These pictorial innovations and the subject itself might have resulted from Homer's exposure in France to Japanese art, with its compressed narrow space, and to the paintings of the Barbizon school artists, who often depicted workers in the fields in a way that emphasized the dignity of their labor. Homer used white paint to highlight the contours of the figure, probably a technique that carried over from his wood engraving. The white lines set off the figure against a soft, generalized background. This technique also is seen in other works done during and after Homer's stay in France.
Duncan Phillips's decision in the late 1940s to augment his collection of Homers by purchasing this early work coincided with an increasing general interest in Homer, as reflected in several exhibitions in many cities and critical attention in a variety of publications.